The world has certainly been turning this autumn. It’s gone through another cycle of climate talks resulting in what some are calling an ambitious international programme to tackle climate change, while others see it as yet another underwhelming failure to take decisive action.
Europe’s once-withdrawn Circular Economy Package has taken another spin through the European policy development machine for a second time and emerged blinking into the light: whether it can claim to be flushed with new ambition will be the subject of analysis for months to come.
While the scale of change in Isonomia’s corner of the blogosphere may be a little less momentous, we thought our readers might appreciate a quick round-up of recent events on the site with which to round off a year which has seen us clock up our 300th article and our 150,000th page view.
All that litters….
As ever, our aim is to help clarify thought, unstick some intractable issues, mop up the odd flaw, and proffer the occasional good old-fashioned warning. Where better to start our review than with some of our most popular articles of recent times, in which Chris Sherrington has unpicked statistical infelicities in recent research on litter. He’s spotted cherry picking, tackled broken windows and most recently addressed some methodological madness in widely quoted studies, refocussing attention on the litter prevention measures that are proven to work.
Our last update to you was dominated by the UK General Election, but in case recent environmental policy announcements have conspired with the cycle of the seasons from autumn and winter to make your days gloomy and unproductive, we’ve turned our gaze on to some issues that will outlast the flourishing and withering of politicians and their plans.
The golden triangle
From the cycling of politicians we turned to the cycling, or otherwise, of resources…. Circles may now be de rigueur in the waste sector, but we were glad to have Ad Lansink return to Isonomia to argue that the waste hierarchy, his well-established triangular peg, is a good fit in a circular economy shaped hole. For Ad, the attempt to update it in the form of the European Resource Hierarchy is loopy, and might even involve a category mistake. More from Ad soon!
Getting our conceptual tools in order is definitely a good place to start if its resources we want to go round in circles, not people. However, we do then need to apply those tools consistently, which Dominic Hogg argued we’re failing to manage when it comes to food waste from businesses.
Unfortunately, inertia can weigh heavy, and according to a recent article from Sam Taylor and Peter Jones seems to be the principal force guiding the pens of many businesses as they contemplate their waste transfer notes. It seems that few are motivated to take action before they tick a box to declare ‘I confirm I have fulfilled my duty to apply the waste hierarchy’ – and one wonders whether something of a revolution could be achieved with a little enforcement activity from the Environment Agency.
However, even with a good framework in place, some issues remain far from straightforward. Another returning author, Hilary Vick, weighed up how best to reduce the impact of nappy use. Knowaste’s plans for a new nappy recycling facility may be welcomed, as a means of reducing the impact of disposables – but could it crowd out reusables, We might hesitate to call it a thorny topic, but it’s a prime example of where good and best come into tension, and therefore no surprise that this contentious topic led to some vigorous discussion below the line.
It’s all about providing the right incentives, although as the months since our last update article have seen us pass through Halloween (where we crave exposure to terrifying films and teach kids that extortion is rewarded), and race towards the consumerised festival of Christmas, that might not always be obvious. Virtue certainly isn’t reliably rewarded in the environment sector…
We’ve heard this message in several different forms lately – most recently, in a couple of articles from Dominic Hogg reminding us that air pollution is undertaxed and overlooked. It is advice that rings true, but which the Chancellor failed to heed in his Autumn Statement. Confusing signals are also at play in the EfW sector, where to mangle metaphors, there may be too many developers trying to enter the ring before the ship has sailed, and they risk burning their boats. Chris Cullen and Adam Baddeley warned of the way ROC subsidies could give Advanced Conversion Technologies an unwarranted advantage in an increasingly competitive market – and even weaken incentives to recycle.
While virtue is not always rewarded, our predilection to exploit the shiny things right in front of us is sometimes punished. Thomas Vergunst shared with us a cautionary tale ripe with metaphor, of the island of Nauru which squandered a fertiliser fortune built on guano, and has been left destitute. Weighing the here and now against the interests of the future is far from easy – just ask those who engaged in the COP21 summit. So for the long view of the need for long-term thinking, Sophie Harvey-Franklin turned to the works of George Perkins Marsh, perhaps the world’s first real environmentalist, for inspiration – and invited the Paris delegates to do the same. It’s probably not the last time that message will be relevant.
The write stuff
As ever, we welcome contributions from both established and first-time authors, and if you’ve got an informed opinion on how the political climate might impact the global one, or an expert view on any other matters environmental, please do get in touch. Many of those who’ve written articles for the site started out just as visitors, and we’re always glad to hear from you if you want to pitch an idea. With your help we will create a space where thoughts on topics from across the environment sector can be expressed and explored, enabling communication and cross fertilisation of ideas.
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Enjoy it… We’ll be back to draw it all together in another few months; who knows what might have happened by then!