Saturday, 30 June 2018

Plastic waste at sea >>> "The problem of ghost nets is larger than imagined"

There are deadly unintended consequences of using fishing nets at sea:

A sea turtle entangled in a ghost net.

Ghost nets are fishing nets that have been left or lost in the ocean by fishermen. These nets, often nearly invisible in the dim light, can be left tangled on a rocky reef or drifting in the open sea. 

They can entangle fish, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, dugongs, crocodiles, seabirds, crabs, and other creatures, including the occasional human diver.[1] Acting as designed, the nets restrict movement, causing starvation, laceration and infection, and suffocation in those that need to return to the surface to breathe.[2]

Ghost net - Wikipedia

It's becoming more of a problem:
Hundreds of sharks and other fish discovered tangled in 'ghost net' drifting through Caribbean Sea | The Independent
The huge 'ghost net' killing dozens of sea creatures in the Caribbean | Daily Mail Online 


Amsterdam, March 29, 2018 

The research team from The Ocean CleanUp has published their report on the amount of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Not only is there much more than initially believed, but it is also accumulating rapidly. Almost half of the weight (more than 46%) appears to consist of abandoned fishing nets, which is not difficult to imagine; large floating ghost nets are several times heavier than individual pieces of floating plastic, and they are made for fishing in the sea.

It is well known that ghost nets and other abandoned fishing gear, such as buoys, contribute significantly to the plastic soup and turn millions of sea creatures into victims. What are large fishing companies doing to prevent their nets from being left behind? World Animal Protection has assessed the fifteen largest fishing companies in the world on this topic and has recently published a report on the findings. The results are shocking. None of the mega-fishing companies researched include the problem of ghost nets in their agenda, and they are certainly not taking action to prevent their nets from ending up in the ocean. Just one company acknowledges the existence of the problem at all; none of the companies report about it.

As long as there is no effective international control system, ships will continue to dump their nets with impunity.

Problem of ghost nets larger than imagined - Plastic Soup Foundation

In other words, it's much more than plastic straws:
Plastic Straws Aren’t the Problem - Bloomberg
Plastic straws aren't clogging oceans - it's old fishing nets, Opinion - THE BUSINESS TIMES 

Trendy bans on plastic straws are bunk


JUN 23, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR – A fashionable global protest movement has nightlife venues scrambling to replace their plastic straws with more sustainable alternatives, such as paper ones, on the theory that doing so will reduce plastic waste in the oceans.

It all sound virtuous, but in reality it’s likely to make matters worse. Straws make up a trifling percentage of the world’s plastic products, and campaigns to eliminate them will not only be ineffective, but could distract from far more useful efforts.

The anti-straw movement took off in 2015, after a video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nose went viral. Campaigns soon followed, with activists often citing studies of the growing ocean plastics problem. Intense media interest in the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a floating, France-sized gyre of oceanic plastic — only heightened the concern.

But this well-intentioned campaign assumes that single-use plastics, such as straws and coffee stirrers, have much to do with ocean pollution. And that assumption is based on highly dubious data. Activists and news media often claim that Americans use 500 million plastic straws per day, for example, which sounds awful.

But the source of this figure turns out to be a survey conducted by a 9-year-old. Similarly, two Australian scientists estimate that there are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws scattered on global coastlines.

Yet even if all those straws were suddenly washed into the sea, they’d account for about 0.03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.

In short, skipping a plastic straw won’t make a dent in the garbage patch. So what will?

A recent survey by scientists affiliated with Ocean Cleanup, a group developing technologies to reduce ocean plastic, offers one answer. Using surface samples and aerial surveys, the group determined that at least 46 percent of the plastic in the garbage patch by weight comes from a single product: fishing nets. Other fishing gear makes up a good chunk of the rest.

The impact of this junk goes well beyond pollution. Ghost gear, as it’s sometimes called, goes on fishing long after it’s been abandoned, to the great detriment of marine habitats. In 2013, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated that lost and abandoned crab pots take in 1.25 million blue crabs each year.

This is a complicated problem. But since the early 1990s, there’s been widespread agreement on at least one solution: a system to mark commercial fishing gear, so that the person or company that bought it can be held accountable when it’s abandoned.

Combined with better onshore facilities to dispose of such gear — ideally by recycling — and penalties for dumping at sea, such a system could go a long way toward reducing marine waste. Countries belonging to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization have even agreed on guidelines for the process.

But while rich countries should be able to meet such standards with ease, in the developing world — where waste management is largely informal — the problem is much harder. In Indonesia, for example, one study concluded that fishermen have little incentive to bring someone else’s net to a disposal point unless they get paid.

That’s where all that anti-straw energy could really help. In 1990, after years of consumer pressure, the world’s three largest tuna companies agreed to stop intentionally netting dolphins. Soon after, they introduced a “dolphin safe” certification label and tuna-related dolphin deaths declined precipitously.

A similar campaign to pressure global seafood companies to adopt gear-marking practices — and to help developing regions pay for them — could have an even more profound impact. Energized consumers and activists in rich countries could play a crucial role in such a movement.

That’s a harder sell than trendy anti-straw activism, of course. But unlike those newly virtuous night clubs, it might actually accomplish something useful.

Adam Minter is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist based in Asia.

Trendy bans on plastic straws are bunk | The Japan Times

PLASTIC ATTACK! >>> trying to get the message across to supermarkets about plastic waste

In April, there was a series of events across Ireland:
Futures Forum: "Shop and drop" day of action at Irish supermarkets > Saturday 21st April

At the same time, shoppers in Bristol staged a similar action: 

'Plastic attack' packaging protesters hit Tesco near Bath

27 March 2018

Shoppers at a branch of Tesco have staged a "plastic attack" to protest against excessive packaging on groceries. A group of about 25 customers at the supermarket in Keynsham, near Bath, ripped the wrapping off their goods and left it at the tills.

Tony Mitchell, who organised the protest, said "three huge trollies" were filled with discarded plastic.

Tesco said it was "absolutely committed to reducing plastic packaging".

After completing their weekly shop, the protesters paid for their groceries before taking scissors to the plastic packaging and leaving it behind for the store to deal with.

'Waitrose next'

Mr Mitchell, said the group had been a "bit apprehensive" but the response from supermarket staff had not been at all "hostile".

"The manager was there and he was being distant but friendly and, from what one or two people said, he sort of agreed with this," he said. He added the group was not "picking on Tesco" and would be hitting the local Sainsbury's and Waitrose next.

"We'll certainly be doing the other supermarkets in the town which have not been making as much effort as they might have done," he said. "And I personally will be quite happy to just strip my plastics off and drop them into a trolley but I'm not lacking in confidence that way."

A spokesperson said: "We're absolutely committed to reducing plastic packaging and would be happy to meet with these local campaigners as we develop our plans to make all our packaging fully recyclable or compostable by 2025."

'Plastic attack' packaging protesters hit Tesco near Bath - BBC News

It's happening everywhere now - with these happening this last month:
‘Plastic attack’ protest in Hong Kong to target packaging for food in supermarkets that activists consider excessive | South China Morning Post
Plastic attacks hit Swiss supermarkets - le news
‘Plastik attack’ protest comes to Montreal | Montreal Gazette

Whether such actions will be happening more locally, we shall have to see...

With this happening in north Devon a few months ago:
Anti-plastic protesters unwrap plastic packaging at the checkout - Devon Live

And this in Bristol a few days ago: 

Shoppers demand Tesco cut plastic packaging and protested by leaving it behind

2 days ago


Shoppers demanding Tesco use less unnecessary packaging staged a 'plastic attack' - by stripping their groceries of it and leaving it for the store to clean up. 

The unusual protest involved 40 shoppers going to the branch of Tesco in Keynsham, near Bristol, and cutting through the excess packaging after doing their shopping. 

The activists left the packaging in shopping trolleys and lined up outside the shop to show that food can be taken home without creating more waste. 

Kathy Farrell, 63, took part and said the store would have to pay to dispose of the plastic.

Shoppers demand Tesco cut plastic packaging and protested by leaving it behind - Video Dailymotion

How to entice more creatures into your own garden

Nature needs looking after - with Chris Packham recently warning us about an “ecological apocalypse”:
Futures Forum: Love of trees is in our roots, we must stop the culls now

And one place which we could be looking after better is our gardens:
Futures Forum: The decline of the British front garden: "There's an environmental cost. Paving increases the risk of flash flooding - instead of grass and soil soaking up moisture, it runs straight off paving and overwhelms drainage systems."

We can do something, however:
Futures Forum: Healing gardens
Futures Forum: Chelsea Flower Show: sustainable landscaping within an urban setting
Futures Forum: How to encourage wildlife in your garden
Futures Forum: Tips for turning your outdoor space into a place that will improve your wellbeing and support wildlife
Futures Forum: Gardens as nature reserves: “Our message to all garden owners is to see your outdoor space as a small-scale nature reserve – part of a network of gardens that link to make a great big, valuable habitat."
Futures Forum: Greening grey Britain > tackling pollution and flooding
Futures Forum: Wild Flowers and Front Gardens
Futures Forum: Greening grey Britain @ Radio 4's Costing the Earth
Futures Forum: The Sidford Wildlife Garden Project

Today's i newspaper looks at the worrying trends and what we can do to help wildlife in our own back yards: 

The worrying damage modern gardens are doing to Britain’s wildlife

Friday June 29th 2018

An empty bird box is the first thing James Arnold sees when he steps into his Cambridgeshire garden.

The great tit chicks that hatched there fledged a few days ago. Elsewhere, blue tits perch in the fruit trees, a solitary bee hovers above a flower and Red Admiral butterflies flutter from bloom to bloom. The garden is brimming with life.

Odd, then, that Springwatch presenter Chris Packham warned recently of an imminent “ecological apocalypse”. His warning came after the RSPB reported an “alarming” decline in wildlife earlier this year.

Figures showed that turtle doves are at risk of being wiped out and that numbers of grey partridges, corn buntings and tree sparrows have dropped by at least 90 per cent in 40 years. The same fate awaits starlings and sparrows which have declined by 70 per cent and 71 per cent respectively over the course of a generation.

On the ground, fewer ponds in gardens has been bad news for frogs and toads and the dwindling hedgehog population is a regular source of consternation for wildlife lovers.

Changing gardens

The existential threat to some species of British wildlife suggests that Mr Arnold’s garden – indeed all of the nation’s gardens – would have been rather different places just 30 years ago. He agrees, but says it’s not all doom and gloom. “There’s definitely a greater array of songbirds now,” he says. “But we see fewer sparrows, starlings and bull finches than we used to.”

Changes in climate and the way we use our gardens have, it seems, had a profound impact on British wildlife. In the space of a generation, the British garden has mutated. So what, exactly, has happened?

If you were to stitch together all the domestic gardens in the UK and lay them out like a patchwork quilt, they would take up the same amount of space as Norfolk. That is 500,000 hectares’ worth of gardens, covering 2-3 per cent of the surface area of this green and pleasant land.

Unfortunately, some are not as green, nor pleasant (from a wildlife perspective, at least) as they used to be. A fondness for decking and paving in recent years might have made our gardens more barbecue-friendly but it has also spelled trouble for many an ecosystem.

A 2010 study of Greater London discovered a 26 per cent increase in the total area of hard surfaces in gardens over a nine-year period as well as a fall of 12 per cent in gardens’ total vegetated area. In an attempt to make our gardens more useful for us, we’ve made them less useful for animals.
Too tidy

Jon Traill, Living Landscapes Manager at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, says the quest for carefully manicured lawns and tidy borders disrupts the lives of critters – many of which thrive in more chaotic conditions. His advice? Stop being so garden proud.

“If you’ve got space in your garden, leave a bit wild where you dump all your leaves, twigs, or a pile of small logs that can rot down slowly. This is ideal for small mammals and insects to hide in and once located in the corner of the garden, can be left so no further maintenance is required.”

He offers similar guidance for anyone with an artificial lawn – another innovation that disrupts grass-dwelling creatures. “If you do need to have an artificial lawn, please leave somewhere for the wildlife. Maybe some patch of grass elsewhere in the garden.”

The decreasing size of new homes over the last 25 years is another reason why our wildlife is struggling: smaller homes, typically, mean smaller gardens.

According to a 2004 Joseph Rowntree Foundation study of more than 600 newly built homes, the average garden size was just 113m², which is 40 per cent smaller than the average across all homes. There is, quite simply, less space for flora and fauna to flourish.

“Gardens have got smaller because of pressure on housing space which makes it difficult from a wildlife point of view,” says Mr Traill. “It makes it even more critical that we try and connect garden habitats so wildlife can move from one garden to another.”

Hedgehogs, for example, need highways, routes which join up different gardens and keep them off the road. “A little hole in the bottom of a fence means a hedgehog can get through to feed and forage.”

Climate change

One of the biggest contributors to our changing gardens is climate change. “We’ve had two heatwaves so far this year,” says Mr Traill. “That stresses plants and animals.”

Unfortunately, it’s not just hot weather that is bad for our wildlife. According to Dr Laurence Jarvis, Science and Research Manager at Froglife, any extreme weather events have negative impacts on the nation’s frogs. “The cold weather in March caused the deaths of thousands of common frogs,” he says. “Dry periods of weather during the spring can also lead to ponds drying out more quickly than normal.”

It is worth noting that the state of our wildlife differs in rural and urban areas, although not in the way you might expect. Hedgehogs, for example, are in steeper decline in the countryside.

There is plenty you can do to make life better for wildlife in your garden

The reason for this is not clear although Mr Traill has a theory. “People are aware of the plight of hedgehogs and can do positive things in urban back gardens,” he explains. “In the countryside, hedgehogs have to rely on what food there is and there’s predator pressure.”

Not all bad news

It’s not all bad news: some species are thriving. The Red Admiral, which 30 years ago could only be spotted in the UK in the summer after spending the winter in the warmer climes of southern Europe, is now our most commonly seen winter butterfly. Not only that, its numbers have risen dramatically, up 242 per cent between 1976 and 2017.

Wood pigeons, too, have seen a staggering 952 per cent increase since 1979. Smaller-bodied birds such as blue tits and great tits have prospered, with increases of seven and 67 per cent respectively.

The condition of British wildlife is not a clear picture. But many birds, insects, and mammals that thrived a generation ago are struggling to adapt to modern gardens. From butterflies to beetles, hedgehogs to house sparrows, it’s up to us to protect the life in our gardens. According to Mr Triall, the situation is reversible if we all chip in.

In Mr Arnold’s view the wildlife in his garden may be different, but it isn’t any less abundant. “Yes there are changes – some bad but some good. A buzzard was a rare sight until 15 years ago and now few days go by where I don’t see a family group soaring above the garden.”

Jon Triall shares his top tips on how to entice more creatures into your own garden

  • Have a “wild corner” where you dump old leaves, twigs, and logs. That’ll go a long way to helping wildlife.
  • A bird nest box on the fence or on the wall is a good idea.
  • Shrubs are great because they’re good for nesting and small mammals will live underneath.
  • Water is critical for most wildlife, whether it be a simple bowl of water on the floor, a bird bath on a pedestal, or the ultimate – a pond. A good wildlife garden pond is ideal but some don’t have space. Some source of water is essential.
  • If you do feed the birds at this time of year, be mindful that they will be trying to find enough food for their youngsters, too, so they’re looking for an easy feed. In hot weather it’s not ideal for them to expend lots of energy looking for food.
  • If you’re trimming the lawn this weekend leave a couple of strips uncut. Long grass is ideal for butterflies and insects to hide in.
  • Plant a range of different bushes, shrubs, and flowering plants. They allow animals to hide away and flowering plants mean there is lots of food for insects such as butterflies and bees.

The worrying damage modern gardens are doing to Britain's wildlife - iNews

Horse Chestnut canker in the Byes and at Knowle

Our horse-chestnuts are struggling - as reported this time last year:
Futures Forum: Horse Chestnut canker in the Sid Valley

And it's not getting any better: 

Horse chestnuts under threat from pests and diseases

PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 June 2018
Horse chestnut Knowle

Horse chestnut Knowle

Ed Dolphin, of Sidmouth Arboretum, takes a look at the challenges faced by Sidmouth’s horse chestnuts.

Horse chestnut in the Byes
There could be nothing more English than a game of conkers under the boughs of a magnificent horse chestnut tree, or so you might think.
Although the game of conkers is a uniquely British thing, the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is not a native tree, it originated in the Balkan Peninsula.
In 1576, physician and botanist Karl Clusius acquired some conkers from the Sultan of Turkey and planted them in the court garden in Vienna.
They were a popular addition and soon all the great gardens and parks of Northern Europe had horse chestnuts growing.
Aesculus wilt
Horse chestnuts thrive in a wide range of growing conditions and the Forestry Commission estimates that there are nearly half a million in the UK, mostly in parks and along roadsides.
In Sidmouth, there are fine examples in The Byes and Knowle, and along Station Road.
A full-grown tree is a magnificent sight, but a closer look can be just as rewarding.
The large sticky buds open to claw-like young leaves. The leaves open to the characteristic fans of five to seven leaflets on each stalk or petiole.
Aesculus leaves
The nectar and pollen from the candlesticks of white and pink flowers are a great source of food for many insects. When ripe, the spiky green balls of the fruit fall to the ground and split open to reveal the seeds – the conkers. At first they are a creamy white, but exposure to air triggers the chemical reaction that forms the rich brown skin.
Sadly, horse chestnuts are under threat, leaf miner moths are reducing the trees’ vigour but, more seriously, a disease called bleeding canker is killing these graceful giants.
The leaf miner moth is an exotic species that made its way to England in 2002 and has spread rapidly. The adult moth lays eggs on the horse chestnut leaves and, when the tiny caterpillars hatch, they eat their way into the leaves.
They create tunnels as they feed on the internal tissues and this causes brown scarring of the leaf. The trees seem to be able to cope with all this unless they are stressed by poor weather or other diseases such as bleeding canker.
Horse chetnut Knowle canker
If a tree has bleeding canker, its bark splits open and it weeps a black or dark brown liquid as if the tree is bleeding. A particularly virulent form of the disease caused by a Pseudomonas bacterium has spread rapidly across England in the last 20 years.
Trees in good growing conditions can survive but, if the tree is debilitated by pests such as the leaf miner, the cracks in the bark become too extensive and it can kill the tree. Even if the tree survives, individual boughs can die back and then break off, so large trees need regular surveys for public safety.
Last year, one the hundred-foot horse chestnuts inside the fence of the Knowle parkland wilted suddenly and there were characteristic cracks in the bark weeping black. The tree couldn’t be saved and is now a four-foot tall stump.
Another tree, further up Station Road is also infected. It will be a terrible loss to the town if the remaining dozen mature trees in the park are lost.

Horse chestnuts under threat from pests and diseases | Sidmouth and Ottery breaking news and sport - Sidmouth Herald

"Fossil fuels are a blessing to humanity"

Fossil fuels have clearly had great benefits - as the Foundation for Economic Education points out: 

Fossil Fuels Are a Blessing to Humanity

by Robert P. Murphy
Updated Friday, June 29, 2018

The Problem of Fossil Fuels and Repressive Governments
Countries Fight Over Fossil Fuels
The Social Costs of Fossil Fuels

The Problem of Fossil Fuels and Repressive Governments

You may be inclined to think fossil fuels are a curse on humanity. After all, just look at how many oil-rich countries are run by repressive governments. Right?

On the contrary, fossil fuels are a blessing to humanity. Although the explosion in material prosperity ushered in after the Industrial Revolution has complex causes, the ready availability of densely packed energy sources—in the form of coal for steamships and locomotives, and later oil to fuel motor vehicles and airplanes—was certainly a contributing factor.

To appreciate how well-suited fossil fuels are to the development of transportation networks, consider the following facts about the energy density of various types of storage (taken from this source)...

Now given their high energy density and convenience for transport, it’s understandable that fossil fuels are valued highly on the market. This, in turn, explains the so-called "Resource Curse," in which those countries with large endowments of natural resources tend to score worse on measures of democracy and even economic development. Yet as counterexamples such as the United States and Canada—countries with enormous endowments of fossil fuels and yet excellent scores on human rights and development—underscore, it’s not so much that fossil fuels cause repressive governments, but rather that autocratic regimes can get away with their dysfunction if they are propped up by lucrative mineral exports.

Countries Fight Over Fossil Fuels

It’s not just that oil exporters tend to have repressive governments. Even well-functioning democracies become embroiled in wars for oil in the Middle East.

Wars are indeed a tragedy, and humans unfortunately fight over things they value highly. (People often rob banks, but that doesn’t prove money is a curse to humanity.) There is nothing in fossil fuels per se that causes humans to fight; the United States and Canada have prodigious endowments, and the owners of these resources are typically left in peace. Fossil fuels make humanity richer, and humanity would be even richer still if they’d stop fighting over who controls fossil fuels.

The United States doesn’t "need" to police the Middle East to ensure the flow of oil. The whole point of one regional autocrat conquering his neighbor’s territory is to be the one selling that oil to the world market.

Since oil is fungible, even if a hostile regime tried to deny exports to the United States, that would simply rearrange world trade and mean that America imported its oil from friendlier places. The economic shocks and gas lines of the 1970s weren’t caused by the OPEC embargo, but instead were the fault of the foolish wage and price controls of the Nixon Administration.

The Social Costs of Fossil Fuels

It’s possible that fossil fuels served a useful "bridge" to get us into the modern age, but especially with the growing threat of climate change as well as the falling costs of alternative energy sources, humanity needs to wean itself off fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Sounds plausible, right?

It is very convenient for environmental activists in Europe and the United States to personally live with the benefits of the Industrial Revolution, while recommending that people in India and Africa eschew the cheapest forms of energy in the name of mitigating climate change. For example, the latest (as of this writing) World Bank data show that in 2014 the per capita electricity consumption (measured in kilowatt-hours) was 310 in Bangladesh, 355 in Ghana, and 806 in India, while it was 6,938 in France, 7,035 in Germany, and 12,987 in the United States.

Even on its own terms, the concept of the "social cost of carbon" looks at the alleged "negative externality" of carbon dioxide emissions that are not being accounted for in normal market prices. Even if the official estimates put out by the EPA on the "social cost of carbon" were correct—and there are serious problems with the way these numbers are calculated—it wouldn’t prove that fossil fuels in total were harmful to humanity. Rather, it would only mean that "on the margin" humans were emitting too much carbon dioxide, and should cut back.

Even with the advances in wind and solar power, conventional government estimates still forecast that fossil fuels will provide most of the United States’ energy needs for decades to come. Here is a chart from the most recent projection by the Energy Information Administration (EIA)...

Wikipedia entry on "Energy Density"
Alex Epstein speech, "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels"
North American Energy Inventory
Brian Lee Crowely and Robert P. Murphy, "Much Ado About the Dutch Disease."
Robert P. Murphy, "The ‘Social Cost of Carbon’: Some Surprising Facts."

Fossil Fuels Are a Blessing to Humanity - Foundation for Economic Education

Friday, 29 June 2018

Local is best > As Wyevale bows out of Sidmouth, "it has been proved big companies can't run garden centres."

A year ago, this blog looked at the whole issue of 'local is best' a year ago - and featured the Wyevale Garden Centres:
Futures Forum: Transition towns and buying local

For the past week, the Herald's top story has been the garden centre: 
Sidmouth businessman's plans to make town's garden centre 'special again' | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald

And the future of this large area of employment land could well impact on that of another:
Futures Forum: Sidford business park >>> 'Where is the land for new industrial units?' Possibly at the revamped garden centre...

There is further comment elsewhere on-line about the site:
Big interest in Wyevale Garden Centres as opening bids are assessed | Horticulture Week

And there is a lot of interest in the Sidmouth centre: 

What are the most in-demand Wyevale garden centres?

Woodcote Green, Sudbury and Tunbridge Wells are among sites that experts say will attract most interest.
The most in-demand Wyevale Garden Centres
The most in-demand Wyevale Garden Centres

Wyevale put its 145 garden centres up for sale in late May at prices ranging from £200,000 to £35m and with a combined value of £450m. The deadline for first bids to Christie & Co was 26 June. National operators have shown interest but an outside buyer could still snap up many or all the centres. 
West Parley, Wimbourne, Lower Dicker, Wych Cross, Lewes, Old Barn, Jack's Patch, Sidmouth, Taunton, former Armitage's such as Pennine, Garden & Leisures and Peter Barratt's centres such as Heighley Gate, Bolton, Syon Park, Woodbridge and Bridgemere are also expected to be among the most popular. Wyevale says it is "business as usual" until a deal is done.
Most interest is likely to be in southeastern centres, but groups such as Klondyke could look in its northern heartland, while British Garden Centres would look in the eastern Midlands. Squire's and Haskins would want South East centres. Blue Diamond could look nationwide and Dobbies would look throughout England and Wales. Notcutts is southern- and Midlands-based. Hillview is in the Midlands and QD/Cherry Lane is based in East Anglia. Newbank is in the North West. Longacres is in the South East, as is Bonnetts.
Ian Barlow, who sold Sidmouth Garden Centre in Devon (asking price: £900,000) to Wyevale in 2014 for about £3.5m, is in the market to buy it back and says there are "bidding wars" going on locally for garden centres, including Jack's Patch (£3.1m) in Cornwall and Taunton (£2.8m) in Somerset.
Barlow says: "It would be rude not to bid. If it goes for £900,000 it will be the bargain of a lifetime. But it will be going for substantially more than that — I believe there are five or six offers on the table." Barlow owns 12 acres around Sidmouth and could redevelop or rebuild the centre should his bid be successful.
He says the sale has been clever in setting up local bidding wars for "once-in-a-lifetime opportunities" all around the country.
Barlow adds that freeholds are likely to be more attractive than leaseholds. "They have got to sell them all. They can't be left with a few because they have to get rid of head office. Head office is a £30m cost and they can't justify that for a few centres. Guy Hands has to liquidate the hedge fund because people want their money out.
"In the present situation, with the way retail is — and I know garden centres are different — it has been proved big companies can't run garden centres. They are not nimble enough on their feet and ready to go. I can't see anyone taking on all of something that big.
"Sidmouth was turning over £3m and now in three years it's less than £1.3m. All it needs is a bit of care and customer service, and to get away from big companies who do nothing for the local economy."
Meanwhile, former Sidmouth centre manager James Trevett is having 1,044sq m Combe Garden Centre built in nearby Gittisham, Devon.
What are the most in-demand Wyevale garden centres? | Horticulture Week

See also:
Sidmothian James sets sights on building garden centre in Honiton | Latest Sidmouth and Ottery News - Sidmouth Herald
Combe Garden Centre in Honiton: Opening date is announced | Honiton, Axminster and Seaton news - Midweek Herald

Sidmouth Arboretum > summer newsletter

The Arboretum have been busy - and have a few other things in the offing:

Sidmouth Arboretum Summer Newsletter 2018

Welcome to the summer 2018 newsletter from Sidmouth Arboretum which we hope will keep you informed of our activities and events in the Sid Valley.

We saw some of you at the events we hosted in Tree Week in April at which we received several new requests to subscribe to the newsletter.

In July we are one of the nominated charities at Waitrose so if you shop there please make sure to add the green token in the Arboretum slot. We can raise up to £1000 this way with your help.

Tree week April 16th -April 21st
The tree week was very successful and we are already planning another for 2019 based on the same walk and talk format. However we are going to move the week back to May to allow a bit more leaf and blossom to come out. We did not anticipate the lateness of spring, although everything seems to growing very fast now.

The latest Woodland Trust magazine “Broadleaf” features an article by one of our speakers, Jill Butler, selecting her favourite ancient oak trees. Unfortunately none of them are within easy reach of Sidmouth the nearest being in Sussex.

Walks Leaflets
Remember that the walks leaflets are available from the tourist information centre so you can follow the walks we did in tree week if you missed them then.

Schools Activities
This spring we have completed two tree identification days for schools.
The first was for St Johns school in Sidmouth at Sidholme hotel for 30 pupils, using the same format as last year for the primary school.
The second, as part the Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) week at Newton Poppleford school, a day for the whole school in their own grounds. It is very rewarding to be able get the message to the next generation about how important and interesting trees are.

Sidmouth Tree Celebration evening 30th November
We are working on speakers and stalls for Friday 30th November 2018 at Kennaway house so please get this date in your diary.

Planting and Maintenance
Our trees are regularly checked to ensure they are securely staked and where required stakes have been replaced with new ones. If you would like to help check and maintain the trees then please contact us.

N.B. Please support us at Waitrose if you are able to.
Jon Ball jball25410@hotmail.com
Jill Gray jillgray22@gmail.com
Diana East info@sidmoutharboretum.org.uk 

Sidmouth Arboretum


Climate change: and getting tough on the big polluters

The go-ahead for Heathrow will not help carbon emissions targets:
Futures Forum: Brexit: and expanding airports

Rather, we need to be getting much tougher:
Futures Forum: Climate change: the polluter pays 

To win, the climate movement needs to get tough on the big polluters

Tim Root 26 June, 2018

There can be no such thing as 'business as usual' when it comes to climate change.

Pic: After the Heathrow vote, let’s hone in on the major polluters, says Tim Root

Bill McKibben, founder of campaign group 350.org, recently wrote that we have made little progress in our ‘race against time’ on climate change. Climate activists need to start thinking bold.

While the survival of all is at stake, most of those who will suffer worst and soonest due to climate change are poor. We only have a few years to cut emissions enough to keep the temperature rise below 2°C. We must make progress before increasingly frequent negative climate news spreads defeatism.

The environmental movement can generate strong opposition to new pipelines and other fossil fuel expansion. Many cities and regions are reducing emissions, albeit with limited resources and powers. But we also urgently need to make major inroads into existing emissions.
Slow progress

Progress by business is far too slow. Deployment of renewable energy must be accelerated six-fold to meet climate goals. As S & P Global pointed out, the much-trumpeted green bonds ‘represent a tiny proportion of bank borrowings’. While in response partly to campaigners’ pressure thirteen European banks have stopped direct funding of coal power plants, too many banks continue to do so.

In addition, most governments are still not on track towards meeting their Paris Agreement commitments – most of which are inadequate. People have little confidence in governments reducing climate change, and therefore are more likely to take business-aimed campaign actions.

A comprehensive study of activism concluded that “participation hinges on beliefs that activism…can succeed, and that one’s participation will increase the likelihood of success”. Therefore we urgently need tactics which will arouse hope and inspire the involvement of many more people.
Radical consumers

Demanding emissions cuts by big business could inspire this involvement, as people understand that business can change soon when required, needing to compete for profits and investor confidence. Researchers calculated that if just twenty-seven (specific) big companies achieved the average carbon intensity in their industries, they could cut annual emissions by nearly as much as Japan’s total emissions.

One hundred and ninety Fortune 500 companies are already collectively generating $3.7bn in annual energy savings, with emission reductions equivalent to taking forty-five coal-fired power plants offline every year. The economics makes it feasible for us to push selected susceptible large companies to take the very cost-effective but “massively underutilized” measures to cut emissions substantially, or use more renewables, soon.

Eminent researcher Ed Maibach stated “people who are concerned about climate change are much more likely to express their concern through their purchases as a consumer…[than] to engage politically as citizens.” Market research consistently shows that “a majority of consumers want to take action to protect the environment and are keen to buy goods that are less harmful to it.”
Apples and Amazons

The proposed campaign aims for a comprehensive impact, showing all large companies that we have enough supporters worldwide to deflate the profits of any company we select. Targeting a few companies initially in each nation would show the targets’ competitors that they could be targeted next – and that instead they could gain a competitive advantage by becoming greener themselves.

Successful campaigns of the type proposed include Greenpeace getting HSBC to adopt a No Deforestation policy regarding palm oil companies in which they invest, and Greenpeace’s 2010 campaign which led to Facebook drastically reducing its use of coal-generated electricity, and transitioning to renewables. The proposed campaign should be run by a coalition of respected organisations.

In addition, we need to learn from the movements described in Engler & Engler’s excellent book This is an Uprising. These movements succeeded in getting powerful publicity by dramatizing the moral issue involved, disrupting their targets’ business as usual, and highlighting activists’ commitment, thus inspiring more support.

From that, we escalate – so each action builds on earlier actions to increase momentum and public interest.

Time is short. Let’s start the climate movement we need soon.

Tim Root is co-ordinator of Muswell Hill & Hornsey Friends of the Earth and writes about climate campaigning.

To win, the climate movement needs to get tough on the big polluters | Left Foot Forward

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Politics of Food Production

A very interesting piece from The Ethical Dairy, looking at all the issues: 

The Politics of Food Production

27 June 2018

With Brexit fast approaching and governments trying to plan for a post-Brexit food system that will address the food-related challenges facing society over the coming decades, the various players are setting out their stalls. At stake is a multi-billion pound food industry that benefits a reducing number of interests.

Is technology the solution?

The main beneficiaries of our current system are preparing their scientifically supported arguments that more of the same is our best option to sustainably feed our country. They claim any short-falls of our current food system can be overcome by the development and application of existing and future technologies. They further claim that by increasing production from this food model - intensification - the negative side-effects of this approach can be diluted over more kilos or litres. Thus the ‘per unit of food produced’ impact on our lives and world is less while, at the same time, generating jobs and growth in our high-tech sector.

This argument is highly attractive to governments and policy people. It minimises the need for change and therefore the risk of things going wrong, at least in the short term. This approach tends to mask the fact that the negative outcomes of this system - obesity, coronary heart disease, anti-biotic resistance, poor animal welfare, social deprivation, biodiversity loss, diffuse pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion, to mention a few - are still there and still getting worse. Technology’s history of addressing these negative side-effects is not good.

Is rewilding the solution?

At the other extreme is the argument that farming animals for food is un-ethical, damaging to our health and environment and is a major contributor to global food insecurity. It’s claimed that land released from livestock production could be re-wilded, producing additional environmental benefits. This is a powerful argument, and one that would also involve major social, economic and political change.

This argument assumes that farming livestock for food at any level will produce negative outcomes and that the production of food from arable/horticultural sources has little significant environmental, social or ethical negative impacts. However, recent studies cast doubt on these assumptions. In fact the impact of rising global demand for avocados, almonds and other out of season fruit and veg is now recognised as having damaging environmental repercussions.

What about carbon?

Instinctively, most folk would think that farmed ruminant livestock living on naturally grown grass and forage crops is the best way to produce beef, lamb, dairy, etc., and I would agree with that.

Unfortunately, farmed ruminants have been focussed on in the climate change debate as a quick fix. They emit methane which is 28 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon, so, it’s argued, getting rid of them will cut emissions and buy time to implement other carbon reduction strategies.

Who benefits from this? The industrial farming lobby are keen to see grass-based livestock systems replaced by intensive dairy, pig and poultry because, it is argued, this is ‘more efficient’. But this is a complete red herring.

For millennia, methane has come from grass-fed ruminants and their rotting grassland vegetation. It is estimated that currently the methane from ruminants contributes about 3% to the total greenhouse gas effect and the contribution from grass-fed ruminants (as opposed to those fed grain and soya in intensive systems) has not changed significantly even in recent times. To blame these animals for our current predicament, therefore, is simply wrong and deflects attention from the real culprits – those living in energy intensive, fossil fuel driven industrial systems.

Ecological farming

I’m an ecological farmer which means I farm in a way that works with nature, not against it. To produce healthy, nutrient rich food for today and tomorrow the methods we use on our farm are designed to support human and animal health, while actively improving soil and water quality and increasing biodiversity on the land.

This ecological approach to food production asks the question, ‘Can low-impact livestock farming complement arable farming to deliver enough, sustainable food?’ I think it can.

These models look at ways animals can complement a plant-based food system to utilise co-products, by-products, food waste and grasslands while adding fertility to the soils. Meat and dairy production would fall from current levels but total global food production would, in fact, be greater than from crops alone. The release of arable land from the production of animal feed would allow low-impact, plant-based systems to produce the balance of our food requirements for the foreseeable future. These low-impact farming models would be ecologically based and move towards a closed-loop (waste-free) system. This is the model we are following.

Any form of farming will involve compromise but this model can potentially deliver adequate amounts of affordable food while also delivering substantial public benefits and not necessarily at any extra cost to society.

Driving demand

Sadly, apart from being the best option for human survival, this ecological, low impact, sustainable approach to food production has few vocal supporters. Farmers who produce food in this way are not in it for the profit, so there are no lobbying groups funded by industry profits to advocate for ecological farming, and this middle ground approach to food production entices few activists to rally to our cause.

Without vocal champions I worry that with a largely uninformed and dis-interested public, politicians will be allowed to take the easy, short-term, risk-free route facilitated by the powerful, well-funded and organised agro-chemical supply industry that greedily parasitises the industrial food model. While there may be some token green-wash, policy will remain largely business-as-usual.

What’s the solution? We are trying to play our small part by spending this next year talking about our low impact approach to farming. We want to speak to policy makers, newspaper columnists, influencers, politicians and celebrities. We want to show what can be achieved when we work with the land, not against it. You can help by sharing our story.

The Politics of Food Production | The Ethical Dairy
F&FF - Technical and Business Information

The planet chokes on electronic waste, and a recycler goes to prison

Rubbish is piling up everywhere:
Futures Forum: "The golden shores of Bali are being lost under a mountain of garbage"
Futures Forum: Asia shows the way with tackling plastic pollution

And one of the most poisonous is e-waste - which we readily create because our electronic products are not built to last - as 'planned obsolescence' is the only game in town:
Futures Forum: The Story of Stuff: "You cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely"
Futures Forum: Made to last? >>> getting companies to offer a 'lifetime product'
Futures Forum: Reduce, reuse, recycle >>> 'What's Wrong with the Three Rs of Environmentalism'
Futures Forum: Peak stuff >>> Are consumers getting tired of consuming?
Futures Forum: The promises of technological innovation >>> "Community Technology" and the World in 1979
Futures Forum: Transitioning from a Consumer Culture >>> to Sustainable Consumption >>>
Futures Forum: Design for life, not just for manufacture > Design Council
Futures Forum: Planned Obsolescence: and The Men Who Made Us Spend
Futures Forum: The antidote to Stuffocation: "Sharing, lending, bartering, swapping and gifting networks can all play a part and creating things can be done collaboratively."

You could of course get it repaired:
Futures Forum: Right to repair

And let's not forget where the stuff comes from that goes into our electronic products:
Futures Forum: Conflict minerals in your gadgetry > the blood and sweat in phones and batteries

In the United States, meanwhile, an activist goes to jail:

The Death of Media

The planet chokes on electronic waste, and a recycler goes to prison

Trashed electronics at recycling plant in Rwanda. | Rwanda Green Fund

“Although unjust, my prison sentence stands to serve a purpose greater than myself. I didn’t truly care about “waste” until I saw the people being poisoned from e-waste around the world. Now finding efficient solutions to stop wasteful practices is all I live for. Sometimes people need to see others suffer before they are willing to stand up for humanity. I am happy to sacrifice my fortune, freedom, and even my life—if it will help us all realize how to do what is best for one another [in] this world we share. I hope one day people will understand what I am fighting for. It’s for our future. I hope we all fight for the evolution of humanity in our own way.” 
Eric Lundgren, in an email, June 12, 2018
Part I: Plunder
BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS, Eric Lundgren will be in prison. As of Friday, June 15, Lundgren became an inmate in a federal correctional institution in Oregon—and that’s where he’ll be for the next fifteen months.
In the span of those fifteen months, there’s an increasingly good chance you’ll throw out and replace whatever device you’re currently reading this on, and there’s an even better chance that device won’t be properly disposed of. Magnify that on a global scale and you can begin to appreciate what drove Lundgren to intervene in our wasteful, disastrous computer supply chain in the first place, which ended up costing him his freedom. Because the great charge that has been leveled against him ultimately amounts to criminal recycling.
Lundgren, a respected environmentalist and entrepreneur, is in prison for trying to distribute software that extends the life of your computer—software that is legally and freely available online—to people who don’t know how to access it. He is in prison for trying to reduce the amount of electronic waste (e-waste) we produce on a regular basis from not knowing how to access that software. When it comes down to it, he is prison because his efforts to keep people from needlessly throwing out their electronics would have cut into the tech industry’s model of profiting from consumer ignorance, repair prevention, and planned obsolescence.
In the time it will take Lundgren to serve out his prison sentence, the world will produce around fifty million metric tons of new e-waste. And most of that refuse will be shuttled far away from the West’s own backyard, to dystopian, city-sized dump sites in countries like Ghana, China, and India, to the mass graves of our modern world, where it will poison the air, water, soil, livestock, and human bodies.
In just fifteen months, humanity will wreak centuries’ worth of havoc upon the planet. But what else is new? If they can somehow survive in the conditions we’re leaving for them, future generations will spendtheir entire lives suffering and trying to mitigate the damage we’re doing right now. We know this already. Somewhere just under the bed sheets of our conscious minds we can feel the imminence of environmental disaster on the horizon. Still, we cruise toward it with homicidal calm, unflinching, caught like deer in the headlights of a car that we’re driving ourselves. We know the crash is coming. And Eric Lundgren is now languishing in prison for trying to do something to stop it.
This story is about much more than Lundgren and the circumstances that have landed him in prison. It’s about the self-destructive world we’ve created for ourselves, the kind of people we’ve become, in turn, by living and functioning in that world, and the mediating forces keeping that world in place while making it all but unthinkable for us to live another way. But if we’re going to try to reckon with the perverse dynamics of the suicidal world we’ve trapped ourselves in, Lundgren’s case is a depressingly appropriate place to start.
Garbage Out
Lundgren’s legal battle has garnered a fair amount of news coverage, at least since a judge in Miami rejected his appeal in April and sealed his fate. But you’d have to go back to 2012 to get to the start of Lundgren’s tangle with tech behemoth Microsoft and the U.S. government. As Microsoft has repeatedly noted, it was the United States Attorney’s Office in Miami that filed charges against Lundgren after customs agents intercepted a shipment at the center of everything—a shipment of twenty-eight thousand discs containing computer-wiping software that you can legally download for free.
The Los Angeles Times and Vice’s Motherboard have given solid run-downs of Lundgren’s case, although I personally think Devin Coldewey’s report for TechCrunch gives the most thorough and digestible coverage to date of all the technical details, which need to be carefully contextualized in order for lay-readers to grasp what is so goddamned egregious about all this. There’s no doubt that, in his efforts to stem the flow of unnecessary e-waste, Lundgren did commit a crime; but he was sentenced to prison (and slapped with a $50,000 fine) because prosecutors, with Microsoft’s help, convinced a judge that he committed a much worse, completely different crime, which he did not. That’s the ultimate, heartbreakingly stupid truth of all of this. And one of the crucial factors that made this nightmare a reality is the fact that our justice system is so technologically illiterate that it can’t tell when tech companies like Microsoft, whose primary concern is and always will be profit, are full of shit. 
Here’s the SparkNotes version: when you buy a new Dell computer, you’re also buying a license to use the operating system (OS) software running on it. For Dells, the standard OS is Windows. When you open the box of your brand-new computer, you will typically find a restore disk in there, which can be used to reset your computer to factory settings and reinstall the OS if you should ever get a virus or your system is just running like crap. If you happen to lose the restore disk that comes with the computer, you can actually go on Microsoft’s website, download the OS for free, put it on a flash drive or burn it onto a blank CD (from your own computer or someone else’s), and use that to perform the same function. It’s free because the OS is useless unless you register it to the computer you paid for by using the license key, which is usually stickered onto the computer itself.
Simple, right? Well, as it turns out, no. Microsoft, in the great tradition of all lumbering profit-hungry monopolies, has ensured that the market for this free software fix is as opaque as any militantly useless bureaucracy can make it. To wit, Microsoft has stood by the totally consumer-friendly policy of not selling new copies of these restore disks—a policy that has only served to sediment consumers’ widespread ignorance of the fact that you can duplicate the restore disk for free. Eric Lundgren recognized that such irrational barriers to system restoration could be overcome with comparative ease. And, having toured e-waste dumpsites around the world, he saw firsthand the tremendous human and environmental costs that result from leaving those barriers in place.
For many people who are having problems with their OS but can’t find their restore disks (and can’t get a straight answer from tech support about how to solve their easily fixable problem), the obvious answer is to just junk their computer and get a new one. Add to this an overbearing desire for “upgrades” marketed by a tech economy that pumps out newer, “better” models every few months, and you’ve got a recipe for accelerating the already drastic production of unnecessary e-waste while squeezing more money out of people who are being duped into throwing out perfectly functional equipment.
Lundgren’s plan was to stock computer repair shops with duplicate restore disks he had manufactured in China, which could be sold to customers on the cheap. Lundgren himself intended to charge refurbishers twenty-five cents per disk to cover production and shipping costs—hardly a big moneymaking scheme. There would be no point in charging more because, again, the OS software on the disks is freely available on Microsoft’s website, and that software itself is useless without a valid license key to register it to. “If you don’t have a license,” Lundgren told Motherboard, “and you can’t contact Microsoft and verify that code,” then the restore disk “is basically a frisbee. It’s not worth anything.” To pretend otherwise, he added, is “like saying a gun, with or without bullets, operates the same.”
A Terrible Waste
But that is precisely what prosecutors argued, and the manifestly clueless judge in Lundgren’s case, U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley, bought it. (It should also be pointed out that, judging by the evident missteps in the defense proceedings, Lundgren really should have gotten better legal representation.)
With the help of grossly misleading testimony from Microsoft supply chain manager Jonathan McGloin, the prosecution made the jaw-droppingly disingenuous case that each of Lundgren’s restore disks was worth the cost of a new, licensed OS and that, altogether, he was on the hook for $8.3 million in damages. (This total was eventually reduced to $700,000 after prosecutors changed course, tacitly conceding that their initial charges were absurd, and argued that each disk was worth the cost of a refurbished, but still licensed OS). The prosecutors in Lundgren’s case also contended that the restore disks were loaded with “counterfeit software” that was potentially harmful to users (even though tests run during the trial revealed that the software on the disks, which—repeat after me—was freely downloaded from Microsoft’s website, contained no additional malware).
Okay, okay… let’s take a step back. I can sense that your eyes are already starting to glaze over in response to this sexy tangle of legal proceedings and software specifications. But please understand that the big players in these dumbfoundingly oafish copyright battles are continuously banking on our collective boredom and inattention to the contested details in such cases. That is, in fact, how a software monopoly like Microsoft, along with the prosecutorial mercenaries working on its behalf, continues to safeguard an industry that is explicitly designed to fleece consumers till they’re dead while doing irreparable damage to the planet and crushing people like Eric Lundgren for trying to do something about it.
No matter how you slice it, Lundgren is in prison for crimes he did not commit. And it’s because our justice system, by being so resolutely blind to (or, worse, complicit in) the fundamental business model of the tech industry’s sprawling corporate oligopoly, defers to the entities that control the industry itself—just like the rest of us do. We are entrusting our ignorance to those who profit directly from it.
Devin Coldewey succinctly sums things up: “Microsoft does not sell discs. It sells licenses. Lundgren did not sell licenses. He sold discs. These are two different things with different values and different circumstances. I don’t know how I can make this any more clear. Right now a man is going to prison for fifteen months because these judges didn’t understand basic concepts of the modern software ecosystem.”
To be clear, Lundgren did commit a crime, to which he pled guilty right out of the gate. Where he fucked up was by manufacturing restore disks that, to the untrained eye, looked exactly like the ones that come with new Dell computers. Even though he was going to sell these disks for next to nothing, he still intended to sell a product that made unauthorized use of the logo and cover design of an authentic Windows restore disk. Based on the evidence, it seems clear that the purpose of copying the disk design was to allay users’ concerns that they may be putting some bootleg program with malware on their computer. Still, Lundgren’s modest breach of proprietary copyright was indeed against the law, and it opened the door for the prosecution to speculate, with Microsoft’s help, that Lundgren was peddling “counterfeit software” (he was not) that was worth the cost of a licensed OS (it was not) and that he “intended to profit” from it (it sure doesn’t look that way).
This deliberate and concerted perversion of justice and common sense feels like an all-too-apt metaphor for our time, one that poignantly encapsulates our stupid, corrupt joyride toward environmental ruin. If it were a metaphor, though, it would, by definition, need to point to something else, some other meaning or reality beyond itself. But what else could it possibly point to? The whole thing is just a metaphor for itself: a sad reality pointing to a sad reality in which a well-meaning tech geek is in prison for trying to minimize the destruction of the earth we share, in however small a way, because it may have slightly disturbed one $714 billion company’s model of duping people into throwing out good equipment and spending more money than they need to.

Eric Lundgren at recycling plant in Los Angeles. | iFixit video via YouTube

Right to Repair
Eric Lundgren would be the first person to tell you that this is about more than his freedom, let alone his efforts to make a dent in the e-waste epidemic. Knotted up in Lundgren’s case are a number of questions that will come to define life in the twenty-first century and beyond.
What, for instance, is the meaning of ownership in the digital age?
At the heart of all this is a struggle to determine what rights we have in regard to the technologies we own. This struggle has recently taken concrete form in the “right to repair” movement, which is pretty much what it sounds like.
The basic tenet of right to repair is that it is your right to improve or repair the things you own (or to do whatever else you want with them, really). If you look around and take stock of the stuff you own, this kind of seems like a no-brainer. I bought that lamp—if I need to replace the light bulb inside it, of course it’s my right to do so. I own that bookshelf—if I have to fix one of the shelves, and if I want to decoupage the shit out of the whole thing, you better believe I’m going to.
But, of course, things get thornier when we’re talking about more complex belongings. And there’s probably no better example than cars. For over a century, people have been repairing, refurbishing, and tinkering with automobiles in their garages. Those who lacked the know-how to do so could always take their equipment to others who did, or they could teach themselves by tracking down repair manuals with model specs from the manufacturers.
However, as anyone who drives a car today can tell you, the auto industry has short-circuited this long tradition of independent repair by integrating more complex, computer-based technologies that you didn’t ask for into new cars.
The increased computerization of automobiles doesn’t just undercut repair efforts by requiring new, complex kinds of technical savvy; oftentimes, it also introduces obstacles that are legally impassable. “Some companies use digital locks or copyrighted software to prevent consumers or independent repair people from making changes,” Emily Matchar writes. “Others simply refuse to share their repair manuals. Some add fine print clauses to their user agreements so customers (often unwittingly) promise not to fix their own products.” These issues came to a head in 2012 when Massachusetts passed a landmark right to repair ballot initiative, which required automobile manufacturers to make all diagnostic and repair information accessible to car owners and mechanics. In response, sensing that a domino effect would bring such laws to more states, the auto industry about-faced and capitulated to a more open policy nationwide.  
The tech industry is another story.
The Only Genius Bar in Town
Eric Lundgren is merely one of many victims of Big Tech’s efforts to suffocate the right to repair movement. Right to repair (or “fair repair”) legislation has been introduced in eighteen states where, following the logic of the 2012 Massachusetts bill, advocates are pushing tech companies like Apple to make available to consumers parts and information that are currently accessible only to the companies themselves, their commercial outposts, and “authorized service providers” who pay those companies handsomely. But things are looking bleak, and Big Tech appears to be winning.
Strangely enough, for the past two years the momentum for “fair repair” was being carried not by a bunch of computer geeks trying to find replacements for Apple’s demonic pentalobe screws, but by farmers in states like Nebraska and Vermont. In Nebraska, state senator Lydia Brasch had introduced legislation on behalf of farmerswho have been suffering yearly from the monopoly John Deere has on the computational means for diagnosing and repairing newer model tractors. For these farmers, a broken tractor during harvest season can make or break their livelihoods; loading and hauling their multi-ton machines to authorized servicers, sometimes hundreds of miles away, means lost time, lost harvests, lost money. A number of farmers have even resorted to using bootleg software to hack into and repair their own equipment
The key question is: If we are collectively dependent on the technologies marketed by Microsoft, Dell, Apple, John Deere, etc., and if these technologies are not a “luxury” but a necessity for working people in the twenty-first century—if they are, that is, pretty much an indispensable utility—and if we are regularly and repeatedly shelling out hefty sums of money for them, then should it be permissible for the means and secrets to repair these technologies to be entirely beyond the reach of consumers?
The corporations certainly think so. It should come as a shock to no one that John Deere was joined by companies like Apple and Case IH in a massive and expensive lobbying effort to kill the proposed legislation in Nebraska. Echoing Microsoft’s justifications for grinding down Eric Lundgren, these companies cited “security” and “safety” concerns for consumers who might try to repair their own equipment. Such lobbying efforts have plagued legislative pushes for right to repair in other states. And, in Nebraska at least, they have been successful. The “fair repair” bill died on the table in early March this year.
We’ll just have to wait and see what this will mean for the right to repair movement, but any forward momentum will really depend on how much traction that movement can gain with the public and how much people are willing to go to the mat and counter corporate lobbying efforts. More than this, though, it’s going to take a sea change in how we view ourselves and our lives in relation to the technologies that we depend on—not to mention the giant corporate entities that control them and, to a large extent, us.
If for no other reason, the right to repair movement is significant for setting out to disrupt the purely consumptive relationship we have to the technologies we “own” and to break our mouths-open subservience to the top-down directives of Big Tech. It is significant, that is, for trying to reorient how we think and act and live with (and through) technology itself—as “users” and, in fact, as humans. Such a reorientation can’t come too soon, at least if we want our species to survive.

Part II: A Beautiful, Dying Thing
ON THE SURFACE, all the way down to the most elemental level, this is a story about media. From the computers in all those new John Deere tractors, to the iPhone in your pocket with a busted screen you can’t fix yourself, to the software that sent Eric Lundgren to prison, the media in question here are undeniably new—products of the digital age. And the injustice served in cases like Lundgren’s is the dismal result of a world failing to keep up with the perpetual newness of the new media landscape and everything that comes with it.
But this is, after all, the real endgame of tech giants like Microsoft, Apple, Google, HP, and Facebook. Theirs is a mission to maintain and expand their monopolized role as dictators of the meaning of “progress,” insinuating their technologies into more and more spheres of daily life, sucking more and more of the world into the position of playing catch-up. Theirs is a utopia from which there is no way out, where life itself waits for “upgrades” and adjusts to new formats, functions, restrictions, and protocols that are crafted in secret, delivered from afar, and serviceable only by those technical support outposts that bolster their bottom line and solidify their market dominance. Theirs is an aspiring dominion over the impenetrable “black box” of wires, codes, signals, servers, laws, natural resources, etc., underwriting our reality.
What’s playing out right now, then, is a multi-tiered struggle to determine who we are, where we stand, and what kind of agency we have with respect to the media technologies that increasingly shape our world. But that is also, when it comes down to it, the story of all media. It is, when it comes down to it, the story of human life.
We are currently coming to terms with a market order in which specific types of media dominate the making and maintenance of our world, shaping larger and larger swathes of life. It would be a mistake, though, to believe that our time is any more mediated than others in our history. Because “media” is not simply a modern category restricted to certain kinds of technologies that have become central to our lives. Rather, media are, and always have been, the technologies of living.
That probably sounds like lofty nonsense, but bear with me. Because without an expanded sense of how we live with and through media, there’s really no way to grasp how our limited understanding and acknowledgment of media has created a situation in which we are unable to save ourselves.
Certain forms of media have undoubtedly come to dominate the world we’ve built for ourselves in the twenty-first century. But media have been there with us from the beginning. They are, in fact, the means with which we’ve built any and all of our worlds. They are the forces that structure and maintain and mediate a certain kind of life at any given point in history. And the big point I’m trying to make here is that the media holding together the kind of world we’ve built for the present have acclimated us to a kind of life that is marked for death.
Trump Media
We think of media in limited terms. Even so, I get the sense that we understand the basics of media at a deep level. This has become more apparent than ever in the Trump age.
It’s no secret that Trump and his cabinet goons have largely defined this administration by its bald hostility to “the media.” And the trickle-down effect has been enormous. From the everyday drone of mainstream pundit patter to classroom discussions with my students, questions and concerns about some singular entity known as “the media” have flooded what’s left of our common discourse. This is by no means a new concern for people, but the Trumpian era has markedly and palpably raised the stakes of what we perceive to be the ulterior motives, ideological biases, and corporate manipulations shaping whatever “the media” is supposed to be and do.
I won’t venture into the fraught terrain of trying to pin down who or what we’re referring to when we talk about the media. Doing so would miss the point, anyway. Because the most definitive quality of what we call the media is probably the fact that it has no agreed-upon meaning. At base, it generally signifies the apparatus of a corporate news industry that plays the world to us through a number of communication platforms (TV shows, newspapers, radio, social media, etc.). But even this leaves us fumbling to find some coherence in the varied, selective, and often contradictory ways we invoke “the media” today. Because, at this point, it’s not so much a descriptor as it is an insult, a weaponized abstraction that, like ideology itself, only ever seems to apply to one’s opponents. That Sean Hannity—the red-facedbelt-slapping embodiment of self-servingly corruptideologically warpedcorporate media—can un-ironically call out “the media” on his hugely popular show on Fox News is a painfully instructive case in point.
The important thing is that, in our growing suspicion and partisan griping about “the media” today, we are confronting the essential core of mediation itself. Whether tacitly or explicitly, we understand that media are technologies of the middle. (Medium, after all, is a Latin derivative of medias, meaning “middle.”) Media are the connective tissue bringing together what is separate: the here and the there, the then and the now, you and everyone else. In the here and now, whenever and wherever that may be, media connect us to what is not here, not now, not us.
We understand that media connect. And it would appear that, if nothing else, the Trump era has made such connections more visible than ever. When Trump repeatedly attacks “the dishonest media,” he is drawing everyone’s attention to the fact that their connection to him and “the truth” of what his administration is doing is, well, mediated.
Between the world and us, between Trump and “the people,” there exists a seemingly endless network of mediating forces: the machinery in your phone or computer or television; your internet or cable connection; the websites you’re accessing; the algorithms that sort what you see on your social media feeds; the corporate entities in charge of channeling images and sounds and information from wherever Trump is to you; the writers and producers and pundits who integrate and narrate that information into polished content that can be fed to all of us; the political motives and money-making interests of the people running these enterprises; and so on. And, at each step of the way, Trump encourages us to be infinitely suspicious of all the ways these mediating forces distort “the truth” as it makes its journey from him to us. Unless, of course, those mediating forces produce a positive image of him.
In some sick and twisted way, Trump’s takeaway message echoes two things scholars and philosophers of media talk about all the time: (1) all these layers of mediation—all these things and forces in the middle—affect whatever content is being mediated through them; (2) all these layers of mediation affect us (how we think, act, perceive, and communicate) and the ways we understand and live in the world. For better or worse, Trump has given us a tighter, if destructive, grasp on what media can do. Clawing our way out of this bleak world, though, will require a more elemental appreciation for what media are.
Stuck in the Middle with You
A medium is middle-ness, the in-between, the from-here-to-there. In between what, though? What is on either side of a medium? Life. A state of being on one side, a state of being on the other side—in the middle, the means for living our way from one to the other. Media are the means we have and create to live beyond our immediate present, to reach beyond our given world. Media are the practices we employ, the forces we harness, and the bridges we build to transform what isinto something else, and to transport ourselves there. Media are the passageways of being.
Think of Trump again. On the surface, his focus on “the media” is about how he and his messages get lost and distorted somewhere in the middle. But even when his messages are delivered word for word, even when he gets the coverage he wants, even when he seemingly gets to connect to us as immediately as possible, without this or that mediating force getting in the way, he doesn’t stop. He still rails on about “the media.” Because, in the end, it isn’t really about the message. It’s about how we live. It’s about how we get by with a certain taken-for-granted relationship to “the media,” which Trump wants to upend. Like trade, the border, and taxes, “the media” are one medium among many that Trump has harnessed to make our world into something else, to transport us from one state of being to another, to reorganize the forces that structure and mediate one way of living in a way that produces another way of living.
Or think of Microsoft, Eric Lundgren, and the right to repair again. From one angle, these are stories about what we do, and what we are legally able to do, with our media—the technologies that connect us, the hard and software, computers, phones, and such. On a more elemental level, though, they are stories about how we live, and how long we’ll be able to live a certain way. From the laws and practices of our justice system to our capitalist economy and culture, which subsumes everything, even our very survival on this planet, to the profit motives of corporations; from the metals we pull out of the ground to make our electronics to the toxic gasses and sludge they produce in dumpsites we’ve filled with e-waste—these, too, are mediating forces, the means of living that carry us from one world to another. Our struggles for or against them are struggles over what that world will be and how we will live in it.
Because that’s what media are to us: they are the means for making worlds in which we can live and thrive and be. Making worlds is something humans do in order to be human. Our species came to define itself by our need to live in worlds we’ve had a hand in building. What makes us human is the fact that our humanity is, in some sense, made. Media are the means by which we make ourselves, by making a world for ourselves—the technologies we use, the techniques we employ, and all the ways we ourselves function techno-logically to create and maintain a world in which we can live, and to carry it forth from each second to the next, from one place to another, from one state of being to a different state of being.
Insofar as media are the tools with which we make the worlds we can live in, they are also the forces that shape and hold together a certain way of living that is fitted to that world and reproduces its shape. It’s a constant back and forth: we make the worlds that, in turn, make us. In our past, we have created so many diverse worlds in which we could live and grow and be—diverse worlds in different times and places that created diverse, thriving, violent ways of living (cultures, social structures, commerce, tools for survival, and forms of government). But we have now created a world that, for once, has become indistinguishable from the planet. It is an inescapably singular world, one that covers all of us, our countries, our lands, the ocean, the sky, and everything in between. However, it is a world—this one that we’ve created—in which we will not be able to live, a world in which we cannot be.
In the backs of our minds, I think we know this already. It’s not a coincidence that super-rich charlatans like Jeff Bezos and Elon Muskhave their sights set on escaping this place, on building a new world away from this planet. They know the score, even if they themselves are the living, breathing embodiments of what is unsustainable in our world here.
That world we’ve built for ourselves has yielded wealth, comfort, and abundance for some of us. And the ways of life we’ve developed to live within that world will continue to reproduce the suicidal drive at the center of it for the rest of us who have no way out. The ways we live now will continue to mediate our passage from this world to the end of this world. Which will be the end of us. But the nature of media is also an abiding source of hope for us—the middle-ness is the message. As long as there’s a middle, there’s another way. As long as there’s a world to live in, we have the means for living differently. We’ll remain in the middle all the way until we’re not. We’ll be in-between all the way until we can no longer be. The definitive other side of media, the point of no more middle-ness, is death.
But we’re not there yet. And, until we are, there’s hope.

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The Death of Media | Maximillian Alvarez