Challenging Habitat Blog

Eerily beautiful: crack in the Brunt Ice Shelf – Drone Footage

Brunt I’ve Shelf has now calved: read more in the BAS press release.

Surprising that there is life at all…check out the amazing story of sponges, tube worms, stalked barnacles and other sessile creatures on a rock 500 m beneath the base of a 900 m thick ice shelf and 260 km from the nearest open water: for an easy read, here is a digest of the story in The Guardian or go to the original science story in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Featured image: “Antarctic Cracks and Fractures 2” by sjrankin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Recent studies, reported in The Conversation, recorded increases in some whale species, including blue and humpback in Antarctic waters and the western Arctic bowhead, fin and minke in the Arctic.

One study indicats that a new generation of blue whales, decimated by large-scale slaughter in the early 20th century, have ‘rediscovered’ the rich supplies of krill around South Georgia.

This is indeed good new.

However (there is always a ‘however’ these days….),

pressure on the populations of the whale’s most important food supplies, Antarctic krill in the South and copepods in the North, is mounting:

I blogged about this before – nearly a year ago…LINK

Everything we do has consequences. They may be big or small, near and visible or remote and out of sight.

Before we do something, we can consider its consequences for nature and ecosystems near or far, for people near of far, for generations to come – in short its sustainability. If we start making a habit of that, we can, collectively, get somewhere with a more sustainable way of living…

Featured Image: “Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus)” by Gregory ‘Slobirdr’ Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

To Antarctica with the Bark Europa

I watched this and just needed to share it! Hoping all goes to plan and I’ll be on board later this year…

 

….for the back story, check out Sustainable Outdoor Clothing ?!?!

3) Elastane – Lycra – Spandex

As part of my forthcoming ‘Antarctic adventure‘, I am sharing my thoughts and insights while considering various aspects of sustainability for my planned journey. With respect to fabrics, two previous posts covered ‘oilskins‘ and clothes that keep me warm‘, but there is much more to say about sustainable outdoor clothing.

So, here I’ll cover the wonderous synthetic fibre that provides elasticity to so many of our ‘outdoor gear’. Elastane, spandex and lycra are all names for the same thing, a fabric made of a long chain polymer, polyurethane, or more precisely, polyether-polyurea copolymer. Technicalities aside, elastane offers high breathability and moisture-wicking abilities and exceptionally high stretchability (6-7 times its length). It is in trousers and tops, tights and socks, all sorts of sports, cycling, swim and yoga wear, leggins and underwear – basically anything that is stretchy, comfortable and functional.

Here are some of the environmental snags of elastane:

  • some potentially harmful chemicals are used its manufacture
  • it is prone to ‘piling’, which means that bits are likely to break off or detatch during wear, tear and washing
  • it doesn’t biodegrade
  • it is more often than not mixed with other fabrics, making recycling difficult.

I had a closer look at my favourite merino base- and mid-layers and found that most were 100% wool, while a few were composed of 98% wool and 2% elastane. The same is true for a number of my trousers and t-shirts, even those made from bamboo or organic cotton.

Before I put elastane on my ‘avoid if possible’ list, I want to explore in more detail how it performs environmentally.

Ingredients and Manufacture

In the manufacture of elastane, macroglycol and diisocyanate monomer are combined to synthesise a prepolymer, which is then reacted with diamine acid to produce chains of polymers before spinning fibres and curing it into solid strands. The material is finished with magnesium stearate or another polymer to prevent fibres from sticking to each other (Hodakel 2020).

While that information may not be useful to the lay person, the upshot is that the manufacturing process is energy-intensive and involves chemicals potentially harmful to humans, whereby the occupational exposure to isocyanates is higher risk than exposure to people wearing the final product. Factories should operate a closed cycle that prevents these chemicals from release into the environment (Hodakel 2020). Whether that is guaranteed in all countries where synthetic fabrics are produced, is another matter…

65% of all fibres produced (~65 million tonnes in 2016) are synthetics (mainly polyester), and these are almost exclusively derived from petrochemicals, and elastane is no exception (Common Objective). Being petroleum-based, these fabrics are part of the fossil fuel economy. Claims of manufacturers that their fashion synthetics are ‘sustainable’ are rarely related to use of non-fossil, natural resources, but to use of recycled fibres – and even that is only a tiny proportion of the overall synthetic fabric production for clothing (0.01%).

The development of 13 different brands/types of naturally based synthetic fabrics is underway (Common Objective), but I’m not holding my breath for getting my hands on affordable, high-performance ‘bio-synthetics’ any time soon. Another question is whether their environmental impact when mixed with natural materials, such as wool and cotton, will be any more favourable than current mixed fabrics.

Environmental Impact during Use

Elastane does not biodegrade and will gradually accumulate in the environment. Just under 60% of the plastic waste ‘soup’ in our oceans is composed of non-biodegradable fibres (Hodakel 2020). In addition to careless waste management (see below), the tiny particles of polyester, nylon and elastane released from our clothing during the wash cycle are the ‘hidden pathway’ we are only relatively recently began to understand (University of Plymouth). The impact on the marine ecosystem in all oceans and on the foodchain, all the way from tiny plankton to our plates is something covered in more detail in recent scientific research (e.g. Botterell et al. 2019).

Waste Management

An important component of sustainable consumption is what we do with ‘stuff’ we don’t want anymore or when it is worn out. Typically, we throw it in the bin or we pass garnments to a charity collection for re-sale or recycling and hope that it will be dealt with appropriately. Typically, we don’t know what really happens to our waste (any waste) in detail. Landfill? Incineration? Recycling? Export as ‘resource’ (what happens in the receiving nation)?

A circular design strategy would include using recycled material in the manufacture of new fabrics and garnments. Mechanical recycling of fabrics is more commonly used than chemical recycling, which is still in its developmental state. But chopping up fabrics means that natural fibres are shortened and damaged during the shredding process and it is difficult to achieve high quality without combining recycled material with high proportions of virgin material (Design for Lognevity 2020).

Blended fabrics containing nylon, polyester and/or elastane in addition to natural fibres have, so far, presented a challenge for recycling, but some progress has been made recently in a quest for circular economy in the textile industry (e.g. RE:MIX, SÖDRA). The aims here are to separate natural fibres for re-use and to produce pre-production pellets of synthetic materials that can be used once more as raw material. It appears that ‘thermochemical’ and ‘enzymatic’ separation processis are being pursued, which, of course, means the employment of heat and chemicals…which means added cost and sustainability issues that have to be assessed using life cycle analysis.

While waiting for a better alternative, and discounting landfill for reasons that are beyond this blog post, for garnments containing elastane that cannot be re-used in some way, incineration may be the safest avenue for waste disposal.

Alternatives to Elastane

At the moment, ‘sustainable stretch fabrics’ are containing elements of recycled materials, rather than naturally stretchy fibers. Synthetics sourced from natural materials, such as sugars, rather than from petrochemicals, are not widely available yet, and they are still ‘synthetic’. So, I wonder whether they’d just be ‘bio-elastane’ – i.e. chemically identical to elastane, and hence would present the same waste management challenges as the existing materials…

I could decide to live without ‘stretch’ beyond the natural stretch that knitware offers. Quite a number of my clothes are doing just fine without elastane. But some functional kit, such as swim suits or gym leggins, won’t function quite the same without elastane (picture it).

My Conclusions

  • If it has to be elastic for functionality, then I will continue to accept mixed fibres. But I’ll make sure that I’ll buy garnment made from pure natural fibres where a blend is not required for functionality.
  • I’ll go for longevity to avoid using resources than necessary. I aim to buy stuff that is high quality and lasts long.
  • I’m looking after my stuff and I mend it – after all, outdoor gear is outdoor gear and not a tuxedo or ballgown! Who cares if there is a hole, lovingly darned, in a merino baselayer? Or a repair patch on a pair of waterproof over-trousers? I’ve even go my hiking boots re-soled (thank you Meindl!!!) after the cushioning layer disintegrated and the soles quite embarrasingly disconnected on a rainy day on Dartmoor – but that’s another story.

 

Featured Image

“Wavy Lines Lycra” by BuyandCreate.com is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

References

Botterell ZLR et al. 2019. Bioavailability and effects of microplastics on marine zooplankton: A review. Environmental Pollution. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2018.10.065 [accessed 23/02/2020]

Common Objective. Synthetics & Sustainable Synthetics: Global Production. Commonobjective.co. https://www.commonobjective.co/article/synthetics-sustainable-synthetics-global-production  [accessed 01/03/2020]

Design for Longevity. Close the Loop – Design for Longevity. desingforlongevity.com, a blog site advocating circular economy. https://designforlongevity.com [accessed 23/02/2020]

Hodakel B. 2020. What is elastane fabric: properties, how its made and where. Sewport – a service company to apparel manufacturers. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/elastane-fabric [accessed 23/02/2020]

RE:MIX. 2019. Separation and recycling of textile waste fiber blends. http://mistrafuturefashion.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/ReMix_Report.pdf

SÖDRA. A sweater can become a sweater again. SÖDRA is an association of forest owners in Sweden, who are into R&D (research and development) of sustainable solutions. https://www.sodra.com/en/pulp/news-oncemore/once-more-news-archive/discovery–a-sweater-can-become-a-sweater-again/ [accessed 23/02/2020]

Univeristy of Plymouth. 2016. Washing clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles into environment. University of Plymouth Website referring to groundbreaking research undertaken by Prof. Richard Thompson. https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/washing-clothes-releases-thousands-of-microplastic-particles-into-environment-study-shows [accessed 23/02/2020]

Red, or Antarctic krill oil is marketed aggressively. It’s hailed as the new super-supplement for your heart and brain and vision. It has made its appearance on the shelves of whole-food shops, online health and fitness stores and your chemist down the road. True, krill contains high concentrations of vitamins A and E, and 70% of krill lipids are undersaturated fatty acids. However, the nutritive value of krill protein (~12-15% of krill’s weight) is actually lower than whole-egg protein (Suzuki & Shibata, 2009)

Obviously, there is a massive industry harvesting marine resources – fishing is nothing new and ubiquitous in all oceans. I’m no expert on Antarctic ecosystems, but have read enough to know that the Southern Ocean is a fragile ecosystem under pressure due to by climate change. Some scientists predict that a warming ocean will diminish the krill population (Hill et al. 2012) and that makes me think that any competition krill predators receive is not good news.

Let’s explore some facts. Krill being a keystone species in the food web (see illustration), any large-scale reduction in its biomass may force krill predators to shift to other food sources (e.g. copepods, a form of zoo plankton), or face a reduction in numbers. Either scenario has the potential to alter the food web, species composition, biodiversity and ecosystem as a whole.

food web in Antarctic waters

Simplified Antarctic food web, showing the direct dependence of fish, penguins, squid, sea birds, seals and baleen whales on krill biomass as food source. Adapted from  discoveringantarctica.org.uk

As early as 1982, Beddington and May raised concerns about the effects of the depletion of the food source of (then) over-exploited baleen whales due to industrial krill harvest in the Southern Ocean. Some baleen whales are making a come-back thanks to their protection by international treaties (e.g. International Whaling Commission) and being major consumers of Antarctic krill, are in direct competition with the krill industry.

Today, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) regulates the commercial fishery for Antarctic krill (Trathan 2018). It aims to follow the principles of conservation to prevent the unsustainable depletion of any ‘harvested’ population to levels that cause changes in the marine ecosystem that are not reversible in the time-frame of several decades. Trathan (2018) reports that krill stocks were estimated at approximately 60 million tonnes in 2010 and the CCAMLR catch limit for krill at 5.61 million tonnes was based on this estimate, with further detailed restrictions on specific geographic locations. Nevertheless, there are concerns about the monitoring methodologies and the timing of krill fishing, which, some argue, should be seasonally restricted with considerations to temporal and spacial aspects of breeding and feeding patterns within the ecosystem.

Antarctic krill is not only used as human food supplement, but also for animal feedstuffs, particularly in aquaculture. Aquaculture is one of the fastest growing areas of food production in China, where more than half the country’s overall seafood production is farmed. I wonder whether expanding markets for farmed seafood and ‘super-supplements’ will result in pressure on the CCAMLR to increase the catch limit for krill in the future? How are the power relationships between industry and this organisation? While it appears that currently, krill harvest in Antarctic waters is sustainable (Trathan 2018), how will the ecosystem respond to rising sea temperatures and in turn, how will the CCAMLR respond to that, and is it capable to do this in good time?

For the consumer, this is really about critical thinking, ecological economics and sustainable living, and asking some fundamental questions:

  • For what purpose is Red Krill Oil (you can insert all sorts of other products here) manufactured?
  • What tempts me to purche Red Krill Oil? Is it to fulfil a real need for my body for the nutrition it contains? Is it to strive for a body image that has become desirable to my thinking because of clever marketing by companies supported by ‘fitness gurus’? In other words: does it fulfil my own needs or those suggested by others?
  • Can I obtain adequate high quality nutrition from less controversial, more sustainable sources?

The way I see it, exploitation of fragile and reasonably pristine environments can only begin to be justified if it is absolutely necessary to satisfy basic nutritional needs that cannot be otherwise met. Clearly, the marketing craze for Red Krill Oil is targeting wealthy people in affluent societies that can easily satisfy their nutritional needs in a myriad of other ways. Of course, questioning the sustainability of anything we do and consume is one of the most important first step on the road to more sustainable living.

Featured Image

Antarctic Krill. Antarktický krill” by Norkrill is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  Creative Commons.

References

Beddington JR, May RM. 1982. The harvesting of interacting species in a natural ecosystem. Scientific American 247 (5) 62-69.

discoveringantarctica. 2020. Ecosystems and foodwebs. Discoveringantarctica.org. https://discoveringantarctica.org.uk/ecosystems-and-foodwebs/

Hill SL et al. 2012. A foodweb model to explore uncertainties in the South Georgia shelf pelagic ecosystem. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2011.09.001

Suzuki T, Shibata N. 2009. The utilization of Antarctic krill for human food. Food Reviews International https://doi.org/10.1080/87559129009540863

Trathan P. 2018. Managing the fishery for Antarctic krill: A brief review of important environmental and management considerations. Scientific Report, British Antarctic Survey. https://www.bas.ac.uk/data/our-data/publication/managing-the-fishery-for-antarctic-krill-a-brief-review-of-important-environmental-and-management-considerations/

….for the back story, check out Sustainable Outdoor Clothing ?!?!

 

2) Clothes that keep me warm

When it comes to base- and mid-layers, I am for natural materials. Of course, there are functional tech-fibres that feature a range of desirable properties: fast drying, light, warm, wicking moisture away from the skin, odour-killing….but they are synthetic, mostly derived from fossil fuels and become a waste management problem when they are discarded.

Take synthetic fibres impregnated with anti-microbial silver: the rationale is that bacteria, fungi and algae cause stains and odours, and if clothing is impregnated against these, it doesn’t smell or stain. Silver is increasingly used as anti-microbial (not only in textiles, but also in food packaging and preparation areas, exterior paint, etc. ). Textiles are typically impregnated with silver chloride, silver zeolite or silver nano-particles, and all of these leach out to a greater or lesser degree during washing cycles. When silver is retained in sewage treatment works, it may end up in soils in form of sewage sludge fertiliser and some of it is transported into rivers and oceans. Silver is relatively benign to us, but is quite toxic to aquatic organisms, such as microalgae (see references), which form the base of the food chain. I have no desire to add to the metal burden of rivers and oceans and will leave silver-impregnated items in the shops… 

There are other, more general problems with synthetic fibres: resources and manufacture is based on the petrochemical industry and the already mentioned waste management.  Synthetics are incredibly slow to degrade in landfill, and only fit for incineration. On everybody’s mind since Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth) has coined the term ‘microplastic‘ and David Attenborough has narrated Blue Planet II, the release of microfibers from fleeces and other synthetic clothing during wash cycles is adding to the ‘plastic soup’ in the oceans that finds its way into the food chain and onto our plates. Not only oceans. Microfibers have been detected in food chains of wetlands, soil-based ecosystems, in bottled water and beer.  

What is the solution? Wool! More specifically, merino wool. I’m a “sensitive flower” when it comes to scratchy woollen clothing and always wore a turtleneck long-sleeved cotton t-shirt underneath woollen pullovers before I discovered merino. It’s so soft, even I can wear it directly on the skin, it’s so warm that fabrics can be so thin that they dry fast. It’s naturally odour-resistant that you don’t have to wash it every time you wear it – hang it out to air and it becomes fresh again. So, my base-, mid- and insulation layers are merino wool. It’s expensive, so I buy it in the sales. Merino is all the rage now, so not all of what’s on sale is fantastic quality (some of my t-shirts and jumpers had holes “falling” into them without me crawling through brambles), so my favourite brand is Icebreaker, the most durable pure merino I’ve got. And durable is sustainable. 

Ok, how sustainable is merino? According to O Ecotextiles, the global textile industry is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses on earth, requiring the energy equivalent of 132 billion tonnes of coal and 6 – 9 trillion litres of water. That’s to produce the fibres and make the yarn, to weave or knit, to dye and fashion, to transport and distribute. It includes mining materials for synthetics and using fertilisers on the fields for growing natural fibres. The energy “contained” in the production is around 63 MJ (megajoule) per Kg of wool yarn, compared to 10 MJ for flax, 55 MJ for cotton, 125 MJ for polyester and 250 MJ for nylon. Given the advantageous properties of merino wool for outdoor adventures, it has a reassuringly lower carbon footprint compared to synthetics commonly used for similar base-, mid- and insulation layers.

Ideally, organically produced wool and natural dyes would be used in processing my merino garments of choice, although I’ve not spotted that happening at Icebreaker yet. Synthetic dyes can be bad news for the environment (something I might explore in more detail some other time). So, although better than synthetics with respect to the carbon balance, durability and waste management credentials, overall, the merino clothes I buy have a long way to go to be as sustainable as they could be.

 

References

Foley CJ. et al. 2016. A meta-analysis of the effects of exposure to microplastics on fish and aquatic invertebrates. The Science of the Total Environment. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.03.046

Friends of the Earth. Microfibres plastic in our clothes (and what to do about it) https://friendsoftheearth.uk/plastics/microfibres-plastic-in-our-clothes [accessed 15/02/2020]

Joyce C. 2018. Beer, Drinking Water And Fish: Tiny Plastic Is Everywhere. The Salt – What’s on Our Plate. https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/08/20/636845604/beer-drinking-water-and-fish-tiny-plastic-is-everywhere?t=1581865864250 [accessed 16/02/2020]

Life Material Technology Limited. 2020. Antimicrobial protection information. https://life-materials.com/antimicrobial-protection/? [accessed 15/02/2020]

Lourenco et al. 2017. Plastic and other microfibers in sediments, macroinvertebrates and shorebirds from three intertidal wetlands of southern Europe and west Africa. Environmental Pollution. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2017.07.103 [accessed 16/02/2020]

Ru Yang et al. 2017. Exposure of soil collembolans to microplastics perturbs their gut microbiota and alters their isotopic composition. Soil Biology and Geochemistry. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2017.10.027

The Story of Stuff. 2018. Video The Story of Stuff. By an organisation that became a movement…https://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/ [accessed 15/02/2020]

Urquhart J. 2014. Silver Nanoparticles in Clothing Pose No New Risk: Older antibacterial coatings, when laundered, released just as many nanoparticles into the environment. Chemistry World. Reported in Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/silver-nanoparticles-in-clothing-pose-no-new-risk/ [accessed 12/02/2020]

Yang Yue et al. 2017. Interaction of silver nanoparticles with algae and fish cells: a side by side comparison. Journal of Nanobiotechnology. https://jnanobiotechnology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12951-017-0254-9 [accessed 12/02/2020]

 

The operators of the tall ship Bark Europa have issued a kit list to voyage crew for the sail from Tierra del Fuego to the Antarctic Peninsula. Now I wonder how much stuff I have already and how I can approach the sustainability question with the things I will need to buy.

This is a whole new can of worms for me. While the impacts of fast fashion on the environment have been in the news in recent years, it’s hardly the stuff of frequent headlines. In fact, most of what I have learned about this comes from my student’s blogs. Part of our BSc Environmental Science course at the University of Plymouth is a science communication module, where we encourage our students to blog on an environmental topic they feel passionate about. Regarding my history of sustainable clothing, I’ve always preferred natural fibres and have always bought clothing that lasts – both in style and material, and people who know me will confirm that I am hardly a fashion addict (as I’m writing this, the thought what my students might think about this crosses my mind…and I’m letting that thought drift away quickly and decide not to ask them).

Clothing List for Sailors 

  • Thermal base-layers (3-4 tops and bottoms
  • Warm mid-layer tops (2-3)
  • Tops (shirts, sweaters, t-shirts)
  • Insulation layer top
  • Trousers (2 quick drying, 3 thermal, leggings)
  • Thermal socks, gloves, hats, scarves
  • Waterproof outer layer (top and bottom)
  • Waterproof knee-high boots (to wade ashore when landing by RIB)
  • Hiking shoes or boots

So, what do I make of this? Let’s start with what I’ve got:

1)  Oilskins

Charly AZAB 1999

At the helm of our aluminium yacht Selkie in 1990s. Still got that Musto jacket – although it is a little worn. Photo: David Rushby.

I’ve been sailing on yachts since 1990 and am currently using my second generation of Musto oilskins. That longevity results from looking after my kit and being not too demanding on fashion and the performance/light weight that new materials and technology can offer. My oilskins are made out of polyester and nylon (no gore tex or other modern membranes), with a high fleece collar. I know that fleece is not great for the environment and polyester/nylon garments are not widely recycled (more about all of that later), but overall, keeping what I’ve got, rather than buying new, appears to me as the most sustainable option (financially and environmentally), because it keeps the stuff I have out of landfill or incinerator and saves the resources for manufacture of new stuff. Talking about ‘stuff’: check out the Story of Stuff if you are interested in reducing the stuff that clutters your life.

….next posts: 2) Clothes that keep me warm….and 3) Elastane, Lycra, Spandex….

 

Featured Image

Bark Europa in the South Shetland Islands. Picture edited out of the Voyage Brochure for Antarctic cruises in the 2020/2021 season. 

References

The Story of Stuff. 2018. Video The Story of Stuff. By an organisation that became a movement…https://storyofstuff.org/movies/story-of-stuff/ [accessed 15/02/2020]

 

 

Having booked my flights from Europe to Ushuaia in Argentina, from where my Antarctic adventure will start next year, it is time to look at my carbon footprint for this journey. A search on the internet provides me a myriad of options, which can be difficult when you don’t know where to start and who to trust.

The quick-fix research option for the un-initiated is to calculate my carbon footprint with a number of different calculators, offered by different ‘providers’ and see whether they more or less agree. It’s not a scientific or systematic approach, but I’ve decided to leave the in-depth analysis to another day.

London to Ushuaia

It’s a long journey, more than half way around the globe, as these (crow’s) flight paths in red on Google Earth Pro images illustrate. By the way: the business of the ocean floor between Cape Horn, the Sandwich Islands and the Antarctic Peninsula is fascinating and I’ll write something about that another time.

The relevant distance, measured with Google Earth Pro, from London to Buenos Aires is 11100 km (7070 miles) and from there to Ushuaia another 2350 km (1450 miles). So the return distance, as the crow flies, amounts to some 27000 km, or 17000 miles.

According to Reforestum, I’ll need to offset 3.8 t CO2 for my flights. Reassuringly, this is remarkably close to the figure (4 t CO2) calculated by Carbonfootprint, whose tool allows to take radiative forcing¹ (also explained in a foot note) into account. Somewhat lower (2.8 t CO2) is the estimate of Conservation International. So, let’s take the worst case and settle for around 4 t CO2 equivalent emissions I need to offset.

A range of organisations have tools that allow you to calculate your annual COemissions, and that get’s a little difficult to compare: results depend on how they account for energy use, whether they include food shopping and recycling habits, include specific details of your cars etc… I’ve had figures ranging from 10 t (Reforestum) to 15 t (WWF) and 20 t CO2 equivalent (United Nations; Carbonindependent).

I love trees. They are amazing in so many ways: size and shape, diversity and beauty, ecostystem services (air quality, health and wellbeing, timber…), and within the ecosystem they part-take in multi-disciplinary teamwork and communicate in mysterious ways…but I’ll lose myself in that some other time. Suffice to say here: my choice for carbon footprint offsetting are trees.

IMG_20190224_080704

Woodland on the Devon bank of the Tamar estuary, England. (c) C Braungardt 2019.

To offset 4 t CO2 equivalent emissions I would need to plant around 24 m² woodland at a price tag of around £60 in the Picos de Europa (Reforestum).

I’m lucky, I’ve got a field, and as a household, we’ve already planted around 2100 m² native trees, a combination of two small stands of woodland (1600 m²) and an orchard surrounded by a dense hedge (2800 m²), which I guess, counts only for an equivalent of around 500 m² woodland. These trees offset around 25 ‘typical’ years for our household (but only 17 years of the footprint I’m accruing this year as a result of that long-haul flight).

Oak

The first of the oaks planted in the field today. Small start with great potential! (c) C Braungardt 2020.

But we have been around for more than 25 years and therefore have decided to plant around 200 m² new woodland, which starts to close the gap between our two existing stands. So, on this wet February morning between storms Ciara and Denis, a rather large (and woody) Valentine’s bouquet of oak, beach and chestnut were planted.

If you want to know more about carbon offsetting, watch this video by the United Nations and calculate your own footprint with some of the tools offered by the organisations listed in the References. Amazing what you can learn in a short time!

And perhaps there is an opportunity in your “back yard” to plant a tree, to get together with friends or involve the community and local school to buy a small field and plant trees with children – they are our future, and so are trees!


¹ Radiative forcing for the planet is the difference between the incoming energy from the sun and the amount of energy that is emitted by Earth into space. When the incoming energy is greater than the outgoing energy, the planet will warm. Changes in the reflective surface area of the planet, for example shrinking sea ice cover (ice reflects more energy than ocean water), will add to the warming of the atmosphere that is due to the increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, which enhances the natural greenhouse effect. Read more about climate forcing at NOAA. When it comes to radiative forcing for carbon footprint calculations of air miles, radiative forcing may be accounting for the additional damage done by the emissions of aircraft at their high cruising altitude.

References

Carbonfootprint. 2020. An organisation that offers ‘certified emission reduction’ to off-setters’ and a choice of tree planting projects in the UK, Africa, South America and elsewhere, at country-specific prices. https://www.carbonfootprint.com/carbonoffset.html [accessed 10/02/2020]

Carbonindependent. 2020. A website supported by Ian Cambell, “launched in 2007 to give unbiased information on climate change, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, and how to become independent of fossil fuels.”  https://www.carbonindependent.org/index.html [accessed 10/02/2020]

Conservation International. 2020. An organisation that claims “Since 1987, we have been fighting to protect nature for people“, has a wide portfolio of conservation projects and also offers a carbon footprint calulator and off-setting. https://www.conservation.org/carbon-footprint-calculator#/ [accessed 10/02/2020]

NOAA. 2020. Climate Forcing. Science and Information for a Climate-Smart Nation. https://www.climate.gov/maps-data/primer/climate-forcing [accessed 15/02/2020]

Reforestum. 2020. An organisation that aims to offset carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions through planting forests in areas that have been de-forested in the past, their first and only current project being the Picos de Europa, Spain). https://app.reforestum.com/ [accessed 10/02/2020]

United Nations Carbon Offset Platform. 2020. Branch of the United Nations. Does what it says on the tin. https://offset.climateneutralnow.org/footprintcalc  [accessed 10/02/2020]

WWF. 2020. Branch of the World Wide Fund For Nature dealing with carbon footprint. https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/#/ [accessed 10/02/2020]

 

Featured Image

Aeroplane vapour trails over the Tamar estuary, Devon/Cornwall in the UK. (c) C Braungardt 2020.

I am an environmental scientist and I have taken a decision that can be described as utterly unsustainable. I followed my dreams and in a completely self-centred moment, I have booked an adventure for myself on the other side of the globe. Not exactly opposite, but pretty close.  It’s going to take a long-haul flight to get there, probably several flights. It’s visiting a fragile ecosystem that is already under pressure from other people wanting their adventure holiday, from industry that exploits the natural resources in the sea, let alone the impacts of climate change. I am going to sail on the square-rigged tall ship Bark Europa to Antarctica – sadly not from the UK, where I live, but from the Terra del Fuego, where I will have to fly to.

I can’t blame you to call this frivolous, irresponsible, egotistical, hypocritical, after all I am talking and teaching about sustainability in my day job and doing THAT  in my private life! No, I’m not going to find excuses for this by offering “aren’t we all doing stuff that harms the environment every day, although we know better not to?” I am not letting myself off the hook that easily.

So, as environmental scientist, the least I can do is to share my research, my thoughts and my actions that will attempt to offset that massive carbon footprint I’m about to add to my life, which is, I assume, already sizeable, compared to the average for the 7.5ish billion global citizen. I have also offered to contribute scientific talks and discussions on board. I’ll get my head around the ecosystems I’m visiting and the pressures they are exposed to and will share my points of view. Hopefully, I will find a way to engage everybody in some citizen science and share observations in a meaningful way … I’ve got 10 months to prepare.

And, against all better judgement and rational thought, I’m excited. Very!

Watch this space.

….new post on Carbon Footprint added 14/02/2020!

An afterthought (edited 15/02/2020)

Some of you may wonder what I am on about…what has an environmentally conscious individual to worry about when planning a great holiday? Well, there is pollution in general and the impact of burning fossil fuel on land, in air and water, in general, and its specific link to climate change. I am going to explore all of these issues in more detail in following posts, but to you are unsure about climate change, I’d like to refer you to a series of resources that are a good starting point for adults and children:

  1. NASA. 2020. What is Climate Change? NASA Climate Kids. https://climatekids.nasa.gov/climate-change-meaning/ [accessed 15/02/2020]
  2. Project Learning Tree. 2019. 12 videos to help us understand climate change.  https://www.plt.org/educator-tips/videos-climate-change-middle-school [accessed 15/02/2020]
  3. IPCC. 2019. Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/

Growler in Arctic waters off East Greenland. (c) C Braungardt 2017.

Remembering my Arctic adventure with this image of a small growler in Arctic waters off East Greenland. (c) C Braungardt 2017.

 

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Detail of iceberg photographed while crossing Sermilik fjord, Eastern Greenland, in the sailing yacht Aurora, August 2017. (c) C Braungardt.

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