"How Green was my Valley" - Save our hedgerows & copses
"How Green was my Valley"
Beginning of creeping "green desert" on my green valley.
"How Green was my Valley" - The Browning of a Green and Fair Land
How intensive agriculture, mainly beef and dairy in Ireland, is leading to the destruction of the landscape especially our hedgerows, scrubland and old pastures and copses, and the loss of biodiversity resulting from the destructive practices associated with the monocultural, industrial-style production of rye grass for silage, creating "green deserts" devoid of wildlife in the landscape.
We need to ask ourselves what is Ireland's Ecological Footprint per capita or more accurately what is ireland's Biocapacity Reserve (+) or Biocapacity Deficit (-) per person?
Each individual needs to ask this question no matter what their nationality, as they can find their own national data on reliable sources online and as they themselves are part of this mined data they can retake ownership of this data by acting or not acting ( our inaction in this case can be part of the solution) to improve this data for their own country or region.
What is Biocapacity per Capita? Is Carbon Trading leading to a "Carbon Bubble"?
Most people are aware by now of so called "Carbon Footprint" co-relating it with such things as electricity and power generation, transport, air travel etc. and it relates directly to the release of CO² into the atmosphere. This is included in the calculation of the Ecological Footprint along with other harmful emissions and gases and is only part of the profile of our individual or national footprint on the planet. The Ecological Footprint of a country includes Cropland - plant based food; plant based fibre (clothing), bio-oil products (date palm oil, rapeseed, maize); Grazing Land (beef, dairy, sheep etc.); Marine ( commercial fishing, fish farms); Forestry (timber products); Built-up land ( urban infrastructure, roadways, industrial developments) and Carbon Demand on land and from imports.
Our use or disuse of fresh water resources including fresh water ecosystems and our use or disuse of salt water ecosystems are also part of the equation, although it is a new economic formula still in the making. It is worth noting that an economic formula means a formula that is used to balance the books using the principles of supply and demand. It is a new barter system with nature and our planet, and the old monetary economic system clearly does not take nature, biodiversity, climate change, culture or social values into account and its demise is foretold by it's ridiculous decline into such absurdities as financial "derivatives" and "hedge" funds (reminiscent of the Dutch Tulip Bulb Mania Bubble of 1637, known as the "windhandel" or "wind trade" where financial "futures" and "options" originated and some tulip bulbs were exchanged for the equivalent value of a canal side townhouse in Amsterdam, including coach house and extended garden (Viceroy type tulip bulb) and in some cases over 10 times the annual salary of a skilled craftsman each ("Semper Augustus" tulip bulb) or the French Mississippi Company Bubble (1684 - 1721) when paper money was first printed in lieu of hard cash or the British South Seas Bubble of 1720 in which the great scientist and then Master of the Mint, Isaac Newton, was an investor and is reported to have said self-depreciatory of his losses -"I can calculate the movement of the stars, but not the madness of men") which leave both the social order unbalanced [the South Seas company dealt in African slaves as commodities] and ensure the plundering of the planet's natural resources and ecosystems to cater for the greed and excesses of the few, which is not a sustainable endeavour. Other historical bubbles were the NYSE bubble which caused the Great Depression 1929-46; the computer assisted Black Monday stock market crash of 1987; the dot-com bubble of 1995-2001 and the sub-prime crisis of 2007-2010. The Great Irish Famine of 1845-49 may have been caused by a "Potato bubble" where only one species of potato was grown - the so called "Irish lumper" which was actually of Scottish origin and was a very "wet" potato of poor taste and quality but capable of good yields even in poor soils - and due to excessive taxes on corn and bread this one variety of potato sustained 8 million Irish people at the time [This was greater than the combined population of Belgium and the Netherlands in 1845].. Of course when potato blight appeared this unsustainable monocultural enterprise had the inevitable and tragic consequences and an estimated one million people died of starvation and approx. 2 million emigrated during that decade.
The Ecological Footprint is not the equivalent of the Carbon Footprint and has nothing whatsoever to do with the 21st century "Trading in Carbon" phenomenon which is rapidly becoming the modern equivalent of the above historical bubbles and in itself will not change the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss but will hinder any real attempt at change or reduction in carbon emissions by the polluters and instead make them into a financially traded commodity for the benefit of the few and mainly for the benefit of the polluters.
"Biocapacity" means how much life the earth (our home), or a defined geographical region on it (e.g. our country, our parish) can physically support on an ongoing sustainable basis. It is our planet's or region's natural capacity to recover from "demand " and regenerate life and life sustaining ecosystems ("supply") over an extended period of time.
"Ecological Footprint" is how much biologically productive area is required to provide the resources required by the human population and how much is required to absorb their CO² and other harmful emissions to the environment.
The difference between these two calculated figures of Biocapacity and Ecological Footprint gives a Biocapacity Reserve if the Ecological Footprint is less than the Biocapacity and a Biocapacity Deficit if the Ecological footprint is more than the Biocapacity.
The units used to calculate this are global hectares per person (gha) with 1 gha being the ideal amount to balance out the supply and demand equation of earth's finite but potentially renewable resources. At the present moment the earth's population is trading on average at 1.63 gha per person or in other words about 66% above sustainable levels and it would take 1.6 earth resources to balance our demands. In this trajectory it is calculated that by 2030 it will take the equivalent of 2 planet earths to meet our demand. Some countries are trading way beyond this already unsustainable average e.g. If all the world's population were to consume and waste as much as the US then it would take 5 earths to meet their demand annually and the world as we know it would end in about 10 years' time. How long can we continue with this exponential ecological imbalance? Smaller countries like Ireland are already heading in this direction and we are presently using the equivalent of 3.4 earths annually and as the data in Table 2 below shows we are number 10 in the world with the tenth biggest (i.e. worst) environmental footprint per capita.
Table 1. Countries / Regions with the Largest Ecological Footprint per volume
But some of these countries / regions are vast and if we mine down into the data for the 10 Countries with the Biggest Environmental Footprint per Capita (i.e. You and I) we see that 4 European countries are in the top 10 which is:
Table 2. 10 Countries with the Biggest Environmental footprint per capita
3. United Arab Emirates
9. The Netherlands
[Data: 2012 Living Planet report - World Wildlife Fund]
The actual figures for Ireland are:
Biocapacity per person Ecological Footprint Biocapacity (Deficit)
3.4 gha 5.2 gha -1.8 gha Biocapacity Deficit
[Data source: Global Footprint Networks National Footprint Accounts 2019 edition (data year 2016)]
This means that Ireland's Ecological Footprint is twice the already large global average which is 2.75 gha and we have been in annually increasing Biocapacity Deficit since 1968. All the 10 countries in the above list need the equivalent of 3 earths to supply their present demand and it seems only fair and logical that just as there is a lot of pressure on tech multinationals to pay their fair share of tax, the countries that squander the earth's resources for their own gain should also be made to pay proportionally for squandering the finite and limited natural resources of the planet until a sustainable natural balance sheet is reached.
"Save our Rainforests" and "How Green was my Valley" are connected.
Here is a table of the top 15 CO² producing countries in the world showing that 15 countries produce 72% (almost 3/4) of the world's carbon emissions.
Table 3. Top 15 CO² producing countries per % global volume:
1. China 27.2%
2. U.S 14.6%
3. India 6.8%
4. Russia 4.7%
5. Japan 3.3%
6. Germany 2.2%
7. Iran 1.9%
8. Saudia Arabia 1.8%
9. South Korea 1.7%
10. Canada 1.6%
11. Mexico 1.4%
12. Indonesia 1.3%
13. Brazil 1.3%
14. South Africa 1.3%
15. Turkey 1.2%
Total of 15 Countries produce global CO² emissions of 72%
[Australia, U.K., Poland, Italy, France, Kazakhstan also produce 1.2% of global emissions each, showing that 21 countries produce almost 80% of the world's carbon emissions]
[Data: World Economic Forum]
The table for global CO² emissions per capita gives another different perspective on the data
Table 4. Top 15 CO²producing countries per capita
2. Trinidad & Tobago
4. U.A. R.
5. Saudi Arabia
10. South Korea
[Data; World Economic Forum]
It is difficult to interpret these various means of measuring our impact or footprint on the planet's resources but what is clear is that "people in glasshouses should not throw stones at others" (to quote a local colloquail expression here in Ireland). In other words, in Ireland our modern day beef farmers and dairy farmers are destroying our biodiversity and the ability of our little piece of the planet to regenerate, in equally the same way and to the same devastating effect as the loggers in Brazil are destroying the Amazonian jungle. The Ecological Footprint for Ireland at 5.2 gha is the tenth worst in the entire world, including countries that we like to criticise (rightly because of their global emissions volumes) like China, Brazil, Indonesia etc. and this is quite clear from the data, and no amount of greenwashing or fake advertising and marketing in order to sell our mostly agricultural products abroad can hide this fact.
In Ireland in the 2020 budget a total of €96 million was allocated to the Horse & Greyhound Racing Fund [€76.8 million to Horse Racing Ireland and €19.2 million to Greyhound Racing]; Bord Bia - the semi state board mainly involved in international agricultural marketing and promotion activity and generally tasked with greenwashing intensive dairying and beef farming in Ireland - was allocated €52.25 million and the N.P.W.S. [National Parks and Wildlife Service] - the body given the Herculean task of saving and protecting Ireland's remaining wildlife and habitats- was apportioned a mere €29 million which was a big increase on the previous €19 million but very far short of the €100 million required for an adequate wildlife protection service and one independent of State influence as at present.
This all brings us back to Rainforests and reminiscences of "How Green was my Valley" (sometimes with comely maidens dancing at the crossroads...........).
Yes we have no rainforests in Ireland, but our hedgerows, old undisturbed pastures and remnants of scrubland, old woodland and copses were the breathing pathways of a connected ecosystem that is vanishing before our eyes just as the rainforests of Brazil are going up in smoke, co-incidentally to provide more beef (Brazil) and dairy products (Ireland) to the world's expanding and insatiable middle classes.
These hedgerows and wildflower-rich pastures and woodlands and copses replaced the ravaged landscape left by the British colonial-inspired industrial destruction of our oak woodlands from the 16th to the 17th / 18th centuries for shipbuilding, coopering, smelting for iron and glass and mining, and the further total destruction of our remaining woodland after the passing of the Land Act in 1881 which saw the transfer of land from landlords to tenant farmers with the landlords felling their timber resource prior to sale and the tenant farmers felling the remaining woodlands to turn into agricultural land. These oak forests in turn had replaced the indigenous native forests of oak, elm and Scot's pine dating from about 9,000 years ago (7,000 B.C.) which had established themselves when conditions warmed sufficiently some thousands of years after the end of the last ice age 15,000 yrs. ago (13,000 B.C.) and which had begun to disappear about 6,000 yrs. ago (4,000 B.C.) due to a major climate change event and the formation of blanket bog, and more importantly the arrival of Neolithic people who were settlers and farmers, and their farming practices replaced the earlier nomadic Mesolithic hunters, fishers and gatherers who like all native indigenous species lived in perfect harmony with their environment and the earth, With the start of the Iron Age about 650 B.C. many of the remaining native forests were cut down and the process of limited regeneration had to begin all over again.
Farming Practices and Agriculture have been Forming and Reforming our Landscape both Beneficially and Adversely for the last 6,000 years
Despite the data to prove our Biocapacity Deficit there is not a parish in rural Ireland at the moment where the sound of the digger or "Hy-Mac" has not replaced the call of the cuckoo and corncrake; where the landscape, including all our hedgerows, is not being destroyed, often with EU grants and subsidies; scrubland removed; marginal agricultural land "reclaimed" by literally turning the land upside down by the use of the Hy-mac or "digger"; "Round-up" (universal herbicide) sprayed on previously unploughed land to kill all growth and unwanted germination of any other plant species before the ground is ploughed up for the targeted species (ryegrass for silage); and the often nutrient-poor ground (ideal for many other wild plant species) limed and heavily fertilised with imported artificial fertiliser and sown with ryegrass to provide beef or milk to an insatiable world.
The resulting biodiversity in these "green deserts" is at max. about 4 species per hectare compared to about 40 species of wildflowers and grasses and sedges previously in a natural uncultivated and unfertilised (except by grazing animals) sward and an inestimable amount of dependent biological species whose habitat is destroyed in no less effective a way as the loggers in the Amazonian rainforest whom we like to criticise. These fields in turn, because their subsoil is poisoned by weed killers, pesticides and artificial fertiliser residue, lack all the healthy subsoil ecosystems of naturally occurring microbes, micro, meso and macro fauna and eventually, poisoned by nitrous oxide from continuous over-fertilisation by nitrogen, phosphate and potash artificial fertiliser, will turn to dust or sterile mud after so many generations of intensive cultivation (think of the "dust bowl" in the American mid-West) unless a way can be found to re-wild them while still sustainably farming, and reconnect the wildlife ecosystem with re-planting hedgerows, stands of trees and copses and wildflower-rich pastures which in turn will yield healthy and nutrient-rich meat and milk which can be sold at a multiple of the present price to niche markets where quality is appreciated over quantity in a world where the reduced consumption of meat and milk products will be seen as a necessity and a healthy and informed consumer will seek out products grown sustainably in balance with nature and as a result also rich in health giving micro nutrients, trace elements, vitamins and minerals which are necessary to build up a healthy human immune system.
An informed population which has studied the data will reject the fake advertising and marketing of Big Agriculture, Big Fertiliser companies, Big Pesticide, Herbicide and Big Chemical companies even when it is promulgated by the State and semi-State bodies as at present and the fake premises on which their greenwashing claims are made. Each citizen / consumer has a right and duty to ensure the National Biocapacity Indicator is kept as close as possible to a balanced position and that the Biocapacity Deficit is not allowed to spiral out of control as the present National Debt has been allowed to spiral out of control in Ireland with an estimated National Debt (monetary) in excess of €240 billion (€240,000,000,000) forecast in the 2020 budget for the end of 2021 which is an almost unimaginable amount of debt for a small country of approx. 5 million people! With a national per capita debt of €48,000 per person (man, woman, child and infant) this places Ireland in third place globally after the U.S. and Japan for largest per capita National Debt. [Given that the start of the universe (the Big Bang) is calculated at 13.8 billion years ago, and the earth was formed about 4.8 billion years ago (first signs of microbial life about 3.7 billion years ago)] this €240 billion National Debt is 50 times the calculated age of the earth! Obviously people living in a bubble are not aware of the ludicrous fragility of their existence and the same can be said of the exponentially increasing Biocapacity Deficit in Ireland and other geographically small countries in Europe like Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands which are taking up an enormous ecological footprint on the planet]
Unfortunately, these National Debt figures and percentages have a scary resemblance and co-relation to our Biocapacity Deficit data and both sets of figures and data appear to be related and spiralling totally out if control in tandem with each other.
The only way to return our National Biocapacity Deficit back towards a neutral balance sheet is to convert and return to sustainable farming techniques and practices and return at least 25% / 33% of the land and sea area that have been destroyed by intensive farming practices and over fishing back to hedgerows, plant rich pastures and deciduous woodlands and copses and dedicated and protected MPAs [Marine Protected Areas]. in our oceans. "Organic farming" practices are an improvement on industrial style farming practices but should be conditional on restoring wildlife habitats and biodiversity, and the farmer awarded accordingly, and not used to greenwash farming practices unless the farmed environment (biodiversity and natural habitat) has equal status as the farmed product. The farmer and the fisherman must be fairly compensated based on past profits / earnings over an extended period of time and projected future earnings.; his costs for rewilding approx. 33% of his land (or abstaining from fishing in 33% of his sea area) must be covered and he must continue to be supported financially as custodian of the land and sea. This one earth is the only home that we have and we all have a right to our place on it, just as we have a right to the clean air that we breath and the fresh water that we drink. To secure this ultimate right to live in a world where the supply and demand of the land that we live on is in equal balance with the regenerative resource, and the regenerating earth is supported by a healthy ecosystem, will be a defining fight for the 21st century and one that we cannot afford to lose as we all have only one planet earth to live on and we are already running out of time and space.
Humans have radically changed the world in the last 30,000 years - from the time when there were about one million humans on the earth. Hominids diverged from primates about 3 million yrs. ago and the latest version - Homo sapiens - evolved about 300,000 yrs. ago; spread out from Africa about 100,000 yrs. ago (due to climate change and changing environment) and began using language (a significant achievement for organising society, exchanging data etc.) about 50,000 yrs. ago. Now that there are close to 8 billion humans on the earth and 10 billion projected for 2050, we need to spend the next 30,000 years trying to change things for the better and now is a good time to start. Rewilding at least 25% and preferably 33% of our presently actively-exploited terrestrial and marine land mass and sea area would go some way towards securing a balance with nature in combination with many other changes in food production, food choices, food consumption, energy and transport alternatives and water usage. "Rewilding" does not mean the abandonment of present-day agricultural land but rather the planned reconstruction of former wildlife habitats and pathways by the reintroduction of hedgerows / bank / stone wall land division systems to reconnect pastures enriched with clover and other wildflowers, herbs and diverse grasses and the abandonment of artificial fertiliser and liming applications in favour of grazing animals, organic straw manure and clover and legumes to fix natural nitrogen in the ground, if required.
In 2020 we appear to be at a threshold and individual, national and global decisions made now will decide whether our future generations (or our Homo machinalis hybrid inheritors or A.I. entities) will regard us as a very clever hominid - as our Homo sapiens appellation implies, who took steps to preserve the environment and related ecosystems on which we depend to survive - or a very stupid , short-lived (in evolutionary terms) one...................................
Log of the whale watching tour boat M.V. "Blasket Princess" 10.12.2020
Captain Whales Galore - in lockdown - obviously!