From shy green to full throated environmentalist: Michael Gove’s gift to make Christmas green

Posted by DanielS on Wednesday, 13 December 2017 00:22.

Michael Gove in an information pod at the WWF Living Planet Centre in Woking. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

The Ecologist, “Michael Gove has it in his gift to make this a green Christmas”, 7 Dec 2017:

The restoration of life and the end of extinctions. Good land management plans for every country. The end of ocean plastics. No more pesticides. Is all this too ambitious for a Christmas wish list? Ruth Davis of the RSPB does not think so.

So now is the moment for a new generation of green campaigners to come to the table.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has in the last few months repeatedly said that he wants our country to be an environmental leader – and has signalled his seriousness by banning bee-harming pesticides, and laying out plans for a new green watch-dog. 

Whatever your politics, this is exciting. It could also be globally significant. Because to put all his plans into action will require a revolution in environmental thinking, involving not just protection but renewal – an approach which could spearhead an international plan to save nature. 

And it is this international plan that we must demand, to tackle the spiralling environmental crisis. Nothing else will do.  So if I was to writing to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) today, I would include these things in my Christmas list..

Earth and seas

Bold new goals to restore life on earth - its abundance, its diversity, the amazing places where it still thrives, and the areas where it can return. Human-driven extinctions must end, as must the destruction of our last, precious intact natural ecosystems.

Land for life. Each country should have its own plan for good land management, driving investment into the ecological innovation and know-how needed to re-boot modern agriculture, and safeguard long-term food security. Governments should reward farmers for restoring soils, protecting natural stores of carbon and supporting wildlife.

An end to oceans plastics, and protection of the ‘blue commons’.  We must champion global efforts to defeat the monstrous problem of plastic in our oceans.  At the same time, we must set aside much larger areas where marine life can recover, building on the ambition of the Blue Belt.

Much tighter regulation of pesticides.  The neonicotinoid ban is great news – but we need to rethink how we use chemicals in the environment.  My old friend Nigel Bourne, of Butterfly Conservation, said it first and said it best – next time, we shouldn’t have to face a crisis before we consider a ban.

Help for people to shape the places where they live.  In talking internationally, we often forget that change happens locally. To achieve more, we need to involve more people; rebuilding local economies around a shared vision for the environment, investing in industries and businesses that repair, rather than damage, the earth and seas around us.

Ordinary people

You might think this list is preposterous – too long, too ambitious -  when the country has so much else on its plate. But what’s the point of Christmas, if you can’t think big?  And although I am fifty this year, I have begun to feel the child-like sense of adventure that comes when something amazing is about to happen – when a movement is being born.

We are re-thinking what it means to eat well, both for our own health, and within the limits of the land available - since this land is also home to the rest of life on earth.  A new generation is wondering anew about our responsibility towards animals held in captivity, and to the wild creatures trapped in the debris of our lives.

The manacles of plastic around the feet of sea-birds appall us; the heaps of elephant carcasses killed for body parts are images that will last a life-time, a silent call to action for the conservationists of the future.

But anger and grief alone are not enough. To change things for the better also takes hope and purpose. And hope is alive, not least because of the steadfastness of the climate movement. Many will claim that today’s shift away from fossil fuels was inevitable – the result of technological evolution, rather than the efforts of campaigners. But They will be wrong.

The change was catalysed by ordinary people, who succeeded in getting a few governments to listen to them when it seemed we were destined to burn every last lump of coal in the ground.

Demanding laws

As a result, the next generation of environmentalists understands that campaigning energy, coupled with disruptive technology, can challenge the status quo.  They value the potential for human ingenuity to turn problems inside out – to replace rare metals in batteries with material made from apple-cores; to build homes that are also vertical farms and hanging gardens.

This is modern magic, and because of it, the future need not be more of the same. 

Earth optimism – a confidence that solutions are possible and that we can and will renew the fabric of our tattered world – is a heady force. But it will need political action to give it wings.

So now is the moment for a new generation of green campaigners to come to the table. It is also the moment when we are deciding what sort of a country we want to live in; and when Mr Gove is making the environment front page news.

After Brexit, we will inherit laws from the European Union which have helped safeguard wildlife and tackle pollution. We must grasp this legacy, but we must also build on it - demanding laws and policies that will not just ‘stop the rot’, but begin to renew the tattered fabric of our living planet.

The game’s afoot! as Holmes used to say to Watson. Let’s play.


This Author

Ruth Davis is deputy director of global conservation at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

The Guardian, “Michael Gove: from ‘shy green’ to ‘full-throated environmentalist’?”, 12 Nov 2017:

Michael Gove has transformed from a “shy green” into a “full-throated environmentalist”, according to close allies who have said the Conservative MP has been heavily affected by his latest ministerial brief.

Howls of protest made by green groups, commentators and political opponents when Theresa May decided, in June this year, to elevate the high-profile Brexiter to environment secretary were slowly being proven wrong, they claim.

Woodland Trust, “Shocking declines in large old trees worldwide”

There has been: a ban on ivory sales; bigger penalties for animal cruelty; questions raised over farming subsidies; action on plastic bottles; CCTV in slaughter houses; a ban on bee-harming pesticides; and now the promise of a post-Brexit “green revolution” with a new independent watchdog as the centrepiece reform.

And yet when he was appointed to the role, former energy secretary Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat, said it was like “putting the fox in charge of the hen house”.

He argued that Gove had even tried to remove climate change from the geography curriculum – advisers have hit back to say he only wanted to move the subject to science.

UK will back total ban on bee-harming pesticides, Michael Gove reveals

Others were concerned that an MP whose bullish manner as education secretary alienated large parts of the teaching profession, would be ready to strip back environmental protections in the Brexit process.

But one Tory minister has told the Guardian they believe the opposite has happened – suggesting that Gove had instead undergone a conversion inside the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

“He is greener than Zac Goldsmith and best mates with Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF,” the sources said, referring to a Tory MP known for environmental views. “Fox in the chicken coop in reverse.”

Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven said there was no doubt “Gove has defied many people’s expectations on the environment” with a strong stance on issues like bee-harming pesticides, single-use plastic bottles and the future of the internal combustion engine.

But he said air pollution moves had fallen well short and it was one thing to promise a green Brexit and another to deliver it. “The proof will be in the pudding, especially with the forthcoming agriculture and fisheries bills. But so far the starters are quite good.”

A friend insisted that Gove’s interest in the environment was not all new, pointing to a 2014 speech in which he told the Conservative Environment Network: “I was one of those characters we call ‘shy green.”

But the ally admitted that the MP had become much more passionate. “He is interested in policy and politics and if he is given a subject he will throw himself into it. Hence the ‘shy green’ is now a full-throated environmentalist.”

Even George Monbiot, the environmental campaigner and Guardian columnist, who was highly critical of the MP in previous roles, has claimed: “This is amazing. One by one, Michael Gove is saying the things I’ve waited years for an environment secretary to say.”

He joked that if this environment secretary ever met his former self at education, they’d hate each other.

Michael Gove ‘deeply regrets’ Trump’s approach to Paris climate agreement

And it is no wonder. The pleasant surprise of the green lobby is a far cry from the view of teachers and heads when Gove was in charge of the country’s schools. One union leader, Mary Bousted, called him “possibly the most contentious and divisive education secretary ever”.

And yet from environmental groups – that were deeply concerned by Gove’s promotion – there is some surprising praise.

Tanya Steele, who is chief executive at WWF, said the minister had hit the ground running with a “broad and ambitious agenda”, although she also set out the scale of the task facing him.

“A lot more needs to happen if we are to address major threats to our environment and the global crisis of biodiversity decline,” she said, calling for a 25-year plan with clear milestones.

Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth, said that despite initial alarm at the appointment of Gove, which he said was fair enough given previous comments on EU regulations, “he has been making all the right noises and he’s started to make the right action”.

He added: “To his credit, the moment he got the job he reached out and definitely went beyond the normal pleasantries to engage, listen and debate.”

Bennett said the minister’s speech on soil fertility was one that the green lobby had been waiting and hoping that every environment secretary would deliver.

But Bennett sounded a serious note of caution. He described preparations for Brexit in time for spring, 2019, as an “impossible task” and said it was hard to see how the minister could keep to his promise to maintain environmental regulations after the UK leaves the EU.

Michael Gove calls for views on setting up plastic bottle deposit return scheme

“They say they are going to cut and paste environmental regulation – but when you cut and paste often the formatting goes awry and you lose fundamental things and that is our fear,” he said, arguing that leaving the EU would not be good for the environment.

“It will be one of the biggest shocks to environmental protections in years. And that is not to question [Gove’s] good intentions.”

Molly Scott Cato, a Green MEP for the South West England electoral region, insisted that she would keep Gove the environmentalist in “special measures”.

For example, despite the positive move to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, she said he was still allowing limited use under emergency authorisations, which could be damaging.

“I believe Gove is posturing on a series of environmental cheap wins merely to establish himself as a sheep, before revealing himself as a wolf,” she said.

Gove’s friend admitted that Gove’s time inside Defra had impacted on the minister’s views on Brexit – in particular making him embrace the idea of a two-year transition period to help cope with the complexity of preparations.

And he has taken on his cabinet colleague, Liam Fox, by insisting that Britain will not compromise on standards in order to do a trade deal with the US, for example by accepting chlorinated chicken.

But asked if environmental responsibility had made the minister regret his hefty support for Brexit, the ally responded: “Not in the slightest – he believes in it. In particular, he thinks it creates huge opportunities in Defra, what he calls a ‘green Brexit’.”

Daily Telegraph: Britain’s record-breaking trees identified: tallest, biggest, oldest and rarest trees have been identified in a new study.

Michael Gove demands end to Sheffield tree-felling programme.

It is not the first time Gove has received a reaction of pleasant surprise while heading a government department. After a rough ride at the education department, his plans to offer prisoners more freedoms and boost learning in prisons were well received when he was justice secretary.

One difference, according to a source, is that Gove had spent years in opposition drawing up his plans for the country’s schools, but when he was moved to justice and environment, briefs he knew less well, he turned to the experts for advice.

Rebecca Pow, MP, on board of the Conservative Environment Network, said her colleague’s time listening to green groups had resulted in him deciding the Tories would “go up a gear” on environmental issues.

She said he had taken bold decisions, and argued that there were signs of his interests in the environment in previous roles, including making sure primary school children could name a variety of animals including amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and reptiles.

Bennett, of Friends of the Earth, said Gove was not the first politician to be affected by the role of environment secretary, pointing to former Tory MP John Gummer, whose work while in the cabinet had him branded a “green guru” by one newspaper. He said the same had happened with David Miliband.

Related Stories at MR:

Occupy Hambach forest, another step toward pervasive ecology

Monsanto accused of “buying science” to save glyphosate

Bayer offers buy-out of Monsanto -  use of pesticide glyphosate contaminates majority of Germans



Comments:


1

Posted by Spruce Beetle on Thu, 14 Dec 2017 21:23 | #

...paved with good intentions:

Visigrad Post, “How the European spruce bark beetle destroys the the Białowieża forest in Poland with the support of environmentalists and of the European Commission”, 12 Dec 2017:

By Olivier Bault. Article originally published in French on Réinformation TV.

The European spruce bark beetle is a beetle that colonizes the spruce forests, a very common tree in the beautiful forest of Białowieża, North-East Poland. Ecologists consider it a primeval forest that must not be touched, while forest services and inhabitants speak of a natural forest, since man has been there for centuries even though his interferences have always been limited. For foresters, the spruce bark beetle is not a problem in itself, but the current wave of colonization by this destructive spruce insect is the largest in nearly a century. The most effective means of control is to cut and evacuate dead or infected trees, because this beetle is able to kill a tree in one month and for one killed tree, about thirty others can get infected because of it. Until 2011, the Forest Services of Białowieża explained that they had no problem managing the problem of the European spruce bark beetle. It was the coming into force of the new forest management plan in 2012, under the government of Donald Tusk, that changed everything. Under the pressure of environmental NGOs, the Ministry of the Environment has drastically reduced the amount of trees that could be cut down and extended the protected areas from where it became forbidden to evacuate the infected trees. To top it all off, the Białowieża Forest is on the list of Natura 2000 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) of Community interest, and the European Commission therefore considers itself entitled to intervene in order to prevent any tree cutting as ecologists have been asking for since 2007.

Without the action of the ecologists, it would have been enough to cut down only a few dozens of trees in the forest of Białowieża

It was in 2007 that a local forest ranger identified 29 spruce trees infected by the European spruce bark beetle and asked the Regional Conservator of Nature for permission to have them cut down and evacuated quickly. A request that was opposed by the local branch of an organization of nice ecologists defending the right to life of beetles. Their opposition lasted so long that in 2009 there were not anymore 29 infected trees but 2.656. In 2014, the Białowieża forest was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In April 2017, the infected trees counted were about …. 834 000, or about 8% of the trees in the Białowieża forest. It is one million cubic meters of infected wood for just over 160,000 cubic meters of wood evacuated due to legal restrictions. The origin of the current invasion and the responsibility of the ecologists is described here on a site also deeply hostile to the PiS government.

The European Commission intervened, adding the fight against the European spruce bark beetle to the list of its grievances against the PiS ruled Poland

The current Ministry of the Environment, Jan Szyszko (PiS), is in favor, as inhabitants and foresters, of an increased cutting policy in order to stem the growth of the European spruce bark beetle, otherwise the Białowieża forest risks to turn into a steppe for very long years. Ecologists and the European Commission, on the other hand, demand the stopping of all cuts that are not motivated by the concern for the safety of walkers (roadsides trees). The European Commission has even brought the case before the EU Court of Justice, which has provisionally banned, pending a decision on the merits of the case, any “active forest management” and therefore any cutting and evacuation of trees except “to ensure public safety”. The European spruce bark beetle therefore continues to proliferate in the Białowieża forest. The importance of the invasion means that even young trees are affected. Before the judgment of the Court of Justice, since the arrival of the PiS in power, the ecologists multiplied the actions to prevent the cuts while the inhabitants organized counter-demonstrations to demand that one saves their forest.

The European Parliament also took up the issue in its catch-all resolution of 15 November on the state of the rule of law and democracy in Poland “to put an end to the large-scale wood exploitation in the forest of Białowieża”. By using these words, the MEPs have once again demonstrated their profound ignorance, which is also very natural, of local problems. The ecologists give as an example the forest of Bavaria, Germany, which undergoes the same type of invasion of the European spruce bark beetle and where the authorities decided not to intervene. Except that to allow young trees to grow on lands devastated by the beetle, the Germans are now obliged to kill deers, explain the Polish foresters, and their forest therefore does not grow back more naturally than if they had cut down and evacuated the infected trees, it just takes longer to regenerate.

The European Commission wants to make the decisions but not take the responsibility

Minister Jan Szyszko, who holds the title of Professor of Forest Science, organized an international scientific conference on the 4th of December in Warsaw, dedicated to the management of the invasion of European spruce bark beetles. The problem is that the EU Court of Justice has imposed a penalty of € 100,000 per day in case of tree cutting in the Białowieża forest. With no consideration for the opinion of the experts in the matter, it is therefore in Brussels and Luxembourg that the future of this jewel of nature will be decided. Unlike the government of Beata Szydło and his Minister of the Environment, the Brussels Commissioners and the Luxembourg judges, who are not in the best position to make the right decisions about the Białowieża forest, will not have to account to Polish voters if their action causes irreparable damages.

 


2

Posted by Tree Trunk Thone, Kendall on Fri, 22 Dec 2017 01:38 | #

       



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