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  • The Hidden Cost of Plastic

    Sophie Ranson explores the concealed ethical and environmental repercussions associated with plastic. Photo by Morgan Vander Hart From cosmetics to cleaning products, plastic is a ubiquitous feature of modern society. Strong, malleable and durable: its qualities have prompted market growth globally and plastic consumption has quadrupled over the last three decades, doubling between 2000 and 2019 alone. Yet its growing presence creates complications for people and the planet. At 1.8 billion tonnes, the plastic industry accounts for 3.3% of global emissions; 90% of this originates from production. And it’s at the wellhead where the downsides of the plastic industry begin, according to Priscilla Villa, Earthworks campaigner. “When we talk about fracked gas, we’re talking about fracked plastic,” she says. . 8% of global oil is earmarked for producing the world’s plastics. By 2050, this figure will rocket to 20%. Local communities around these sites pay the price of poorer health. For example, a 2023 study conducted in Pennsylvania, US, revealed that children who live closer to heavily-drilled natural gas wells are more likely to develop asthma and lymphoma. Among other health impacts, close proximity to fracking sites can also result in premature death. Given that marginalised communities are more likely to live closer to fracking sites, the plastic industry contributes to harmful social divides and racial discrimination. “Here in Houston, along the Gulf Coast… we are facing an unprecedented boom in plastic production fed by fracking, that will put even more vulnerable communities in harm’s way,” says Villa. Did you know?                                                                         There are ‘75-199 million tons of plastic waste in the ocean - UNESCO A growing sea of problems for plastic Marine environments hold 80% of the world’s plastics. That’s 75-199 million tonnes of plastic waste swirling about oceans, seas and beaches. Not only does this threaten wildlife, but it seeps into the human food chain too, via the process of bio-accumulation; plastic particles bind with environmental pollutants, which animals then ingest. While fish consume 1,000 microplastics annually, the average adult ingests 35,000 to 62,000. Among the bulk of the waste are single-use plastics: two-thirds of plastic waste originates from plastics with lifespans of under five years. And the industry’s not slowing down: by 2050, the plastic industry is projected to quadruple compared to levels in the 1970s when plastic bottles first appeared on supermarket shelves. The role of policy in plastic waste management Unclear information, a lack of local recycling infrastructure and limited local support are among some of the factors contributing to poor plastic recycling rates. But the responsibility of recycling rates should not fall on the shoulders of the consumer, says Edward Carver, London-based environmental journalist. “That suits the plastics industry just fine,” he says. “When Theresa May proposed a tax on plastic packaging—the world’s first—the British Plastics Federation said that it was “very disturbed” at her tone and pointed out that “littering” was a matter of “personal behavior.” Policies that influence stakeholders further up the supply chain, e.g. product manufacturers, such as Coca Cola, who alone produce 100 billion plastic bottles every year, have the potential to have a greater systemic impact, versus schemes targeted at consumers. A large proportion of plastic waste is the result of industry mismanagement. The OECD highlights that while 9% of plastic is recycled, a staggering 22% is mismanaged. The UK government, for example, exports three olympic-sized swimming pools-worth of waste every day. Most of this ends up in landfills of countries that have low-recycling rates or a reputation for burning waste illegally, such as Turkey and Malaysia, according to Greenpeace. New policies are beginning to trickle down to government actions. For example,the 2021 directive on single-use plastics from the European Union, placed a ban on cutlery, straws, balloon sticks and cotton buds within EU Member State markets, as well as other products made from expanded polystyrene and oxo-degradable plastic. Alternative recycling methods, such as Deposit Return Schemes (DRS), in which consumers pay an additional fee for purchasing plastic-based products, have shown some improvements in recycling rates for plastic waste streams. Though success typically varies, with meager participation from local municipalities and the non-binding nature of these schemes contributing to lower levels of engagement. But change is coming: new EU policy will oblige all member states to have an established DRS for all single-use plastics by 2029. A circular economy approach Some entities are calling for a rethink of the plastics recycling industry altogether. While recycling remains an integral part to waste management, it is symptomatic of a linear approach system, which can be costly for economies. In a linear economy, raw materials for products are extracted, manufactured, used, then disposed of; this leads to the world throwing away between $80-120 billion worth of plastic every year. “We need to rethink the way we make and use plastic,” argues James Woolven, Editor for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity championing the power of a circular economy approach, which aims to extend the lifespan of a product for as long as possible. Innovation in this way can not only preserve the environment, but benefit business’s bottom line, too. “This means channeling our innovation efforts upstream, to the design stage. Design is the key word here. We need to design out waste and pollution… If we keep plastic in the economy, we keep it out of the environment.” Similar articles:The Hidden Cost of Cotton Researcher: Adrian Windeler / Online Editor: Ellis Jackson A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorder

    Liam Anderson provides an overview of Autism and explains the signs to promote a better understanding of the condition, also known as ASD. Photo by Enes Çelik Autism, sometimes called autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a broad medical term given to a range of behavioural conditions that can affect people in different ways, with various signs. Autism is regarded as a spectrum condition, which means the presentation and effect of its symptoms vary greatly per person. For example, some autistic people need no support or care – those around may even be surprised by their diagnosis, while others may require constant support from a carer or guardian. Autism was first recognised as a neurological condition in the early 20th century. Though there are descriptions of children, now believed to have been autistic, prior to this time, there was no understanding of their differences or what lay behind them. Many misconceptions about the causes and symptoms of autism prevail to this day. Moreover, as autism can present differently and requires different degrees of support, many autistic people live without a diagnosis. It is important to note that being autistic is not an illness or a disease, it simply means that your brain works differently to others. Did you know?                                                                         Worldwide, it is estimated that 1 in 100 children have been diagnosed with Autism. - Wiley Signs of Autism: Autistic people may: ·       Find it hard to communicate with others ·       Have difficulty understanding how other people feel ·       Feel anxious in social or generally unfamiliar situations ·       Get overwhelmed by certain stimuli ·       Engage in repetitive actions, language, or thoughts ·       Take slightly longer to process certain types of information ·       Avoid making eye contact when talking to or engaging with others. ·       Be non-verbal ·       Become fixated on specific hobbies, creating a 'spikey profile' with deep knowledge in one area but potential gaps in others. ·      Experience meltdowns or shutdowns due to overstimulation: meltdowns involve a loss of control, while shutdowns may manifest as periods of silence. "The greatest discomfort for autistic people can be the social one. For me, I was confused by the way people behaved." - Chris Packham, CBE, National Autistic Society Ambassador. The Causes of Autism Although we still don’t know exactly what causes autism, the research shows that there is not just one cause, and that autism likely develops from a combination of factors. Some factors have been observed to increase the chance of a child being autistic, though it is very important to note that an increased chance is not the same as a cause. Factors that can lead to an increased chance in autism include: ·       Having children at an older age ·       Complications during the birth or pregnancy period ·       Pregnancies that occur within one year of each other It is now known that there is no correlation between vaccines and autism. Although there are some who still advocate for this theory, the science does not support it and it has been repeatedly refuted by numerous studies. How Common is Autism It is estimated that around 1 in 100 children have autism worldwide, but some estimates put the figure much higher. This is because autism is often undiagnosed, particularly in girls and minority ethnic groups. It was previously believed that autism was more common in men than in women. However, research now suggests that many autistic women and girls are not correctly diagnosed, potentially because autism presents differently in males and females. Further research is likely needed to fully understand these presentational differences. Autism diagnoses also appear to be lower in minority ethnic groups. This could be due to several factors including differences in healthcare, environmental factors, and cultural perceptions and stigmas surrounding autism. Similar articles: Understanding of Borderline Personality Disorder Researched by Phoebe Agnew-Bass / Editor: Mia Yaffes / Online Editor: Ellis Jackson A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Saudi Arabia: ‘The Line’ of Concern or an Ecotopia?

    Thomas Kelly explores the proposed megacity 'The Line’ which promises unprecedented organisation of its population and considers its potential purpose for utopia or state control. Photo by Kunj Parekh Trapped within the confines of a crystalline metropolis, hemmed in by desolate wastelands on all sides, Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian science fiction novel We serves as a stark portrayal of the convergence of monumental urbanism and totalitarian ideology. In this narrative, the transparent nature of the city becomes a tangible metaphor for the erosion of autonomy and individuality within the all-seeing surveillance state. Zamyatin's work has proven eerily prophetic as we witness the unfolding of a real-world counterpart in Saudi Arabia's ambitious megacity, NEOM, often referred to as 'The Line.' This ambitious endeavour entails the construction of two colossal, mirrored skyscrapers spanning an astounding 170 kilometres across the Arabian desert, giving rise to a distinctive vertical city. With an estimated construction cost of $1 trillion and the capacity to house 9 million residents, this controversial project commenced its construction in July 2023. The Line aspires to redefine the essence of urban development, presenting a radically innovative model for spatial organisation and infrastructure systems in future smart cities.  According to Rafael Prieto-Curiel, a researcher specialising in cities at the Complexity Science Hub, ‘it embodies the dream of starting from scratch and completely reimagining the concept of a city’. Nevertheless, its announcement has evoked a spectrum of reactions, ranging from awe at its scale and commitment to sustainability and liveability to concerns regarding the potential extension of influence by the Saudi state and technology-driven governance, with so-called ‘gigaprojects’ straddling the lines between the creation of new progressive ecologies and image-centric vanity schemes. The project has stirred concerns regarding an intensification of authoritarian control within a nation marked by a troubling history of human rights abuses, political assassinations, and strict restrictions on press freedoms, prompting journalist Elliot Smith to pose the question: is The Line ‘ushering in the future or a smokescreen for repression?’ Did you know?                                                                         The Line will have 265,000 people per km2, four times greater than the most densely populated city on Earth, Manila. - NPJ The Line: A Cognitive City While often presented as revolutionary solutions to conventional urban challenges like congestion, overcrowding, and poverty alleviation, these igaprojects can often operate as a disguise concealing their true intentions. Behind their glossy façades lie a common thread of control whether exerted by architects, corporations, states, or an amalgamation of these forces. Saudi Arabia has strategically established itself as the epicentre of this global architectural phenomenon, showcasing a series of momentous and otherworldly commissions on the horizon as featured at the cityscape conference in Riyadh. These include the Jeddah Central, Murabba, the Red Sea Project, and, the highly anticipated Kingdom Tower, set to surpass the Burj Khalifa as the tallest structure on the planet. As the name indicates, these developments formed part of the Crown Prince Bin Salman’s 2030 vision to raise the profile of the nation and transform its petrochemical economy into a hub of global tourism. Touted as the world's first 'cognitive city,' the Line epitomises this approach by organising its residents within a smart superstructure spanning multiple levels, where the digital and physical spheres are inextricably connected. This cognitive city relies on AI and Project NEOS, the world's first operating platform to facilitate data transfers, human mobility, and the entire city's communication infrastructure. Inspired by the CGI special effects of video game technology, of which the Crown Prince is known to be a fan, the shining environments glimpsed in the promotional materials create the impression of an unreal paradise, a social media, AI-augmented utopia that promises total connectivity. “You cannot build a 500-meter-tall building out of low-carbon materials; this would require a phenomenal quantity of steel, glass, and concrete” - Philip Oldfield, Head of School, UNSW Built Environment Joseph Bradley, the CEO of Technology and Digital at NEOM, has made bold assurances regarding user data control within The Line. He stated, "[The Line] residents will have full control over their personal data. M3LD is an innovative consent management platform that will enhance trust by putting personal data ownership back in the hands of users." However, the question arises: can these promises be genuinely trusted? These commitments, seemingly beneficial, raise concerns about their potential costs, including privacy infringement, restricted movement, and diminished individual autonomy. The incorporation of advanced AI and geolocation software capable of tracking residents throughout the city, and collecting data on their spending habits and daily routines, raises valid apprehensions. Moreover, the promise of swift cross-city journeys in under fifteen minutes hints at a controlled and confined living environment, where citizens will be under constant surveillance. Environmental Sustainability One of The Line's noteworthy aspects is its emphasis on environmental sustainability. This claim has faced scrutiny and scepticism. Despite the visuals of lush green foliage and spaces, the sprawling 170-kilometre line could act as a formidable barrier to the surprisingly varied desert species unless substantial investments are made in constructing costly tunnels to facilitate their movement. Furthermore, doubts persist regarding The Line's claims of ecotopia, especially when considering the substantial material and energy demands of skyscraper construction. Philip Oldfield, Head of the Built Environment school at the University of New South Wales, cautioned against overlooking the massive, embodied carbon cost of such construction. He noted that this cost could overshadow any environmental benefits, stating, “You cannot build a 500-meter-tall building out of low-carbon materials; this would require a phenomenal quantity of steel, glass, and concrete”. New Era of Authoritarianism One cannot ignore the deeply troubling human rights violations already entangled with this megaproject. Last year, the Saudi Arabian government imposed death sentences on Shadli al-Huwaiti, Ibrahim al-Huwaiti, and Ataullah al-Huwaiti, all members of the Huwaitat tribe residing in the project's designated area, even before the project commenced. In his endeavour to enhance Saudi Arabia's reputation, Crown Prince Mohammed appears willing to resort to various brutalities that seem to be escalating, aiming to implement a new way of life and attract investments from Western democracies. These incidents give rise to profound ethical concerns about the architects, corporations, and foreign investors associated with the endeavour. While we must explore innovative approaches to address the impending climate crisis, these troubling events cast a shadow of uncertainty over the future of a project that many worldwide suspect, if it comes to fruition, will symbolise a new era of authoritarianism. Similar articles: Sustainability: The Crackdown on Greenwashing Researched by Thomas Kelly / Editor: Ziryan Aziz / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • The Tremendous Benefits of Trees

    Liam Anderson investigates the importance of trees in the UK, looking at both the quantifiable and intangible value that trees provide in our everyday lives. Photo by Dan Otis Several recent studies have shed light on the numerous benefits that trees have upon the people that live beside them and wider society. From reducing pollution levels and flood risks to improving mental and physical health, the social impact of trees is vast, and the economic impact worth billions. The benefits of trees can be broadly classified into five categories: Health and social well-being Cognitive development and education Economy and resources Climate change mitigation and habitat Green infrastructure By reducing air pollution levels, encouraging physical and outdoor activity, boosting social interconnectivity, reducing stress, and positively impacting crime levels, trees promote good health and social wellbeing in the communities where they are located. Furthermore, large open spaces with trees have been shown to be linked to reduced symptoms of ADD and ADHD. Did you know? A 2021 report found that walks taken by people in UK woodlands save £185m a year in mental health costs. - Forest Research Economic Value The impact of trees on their surrounding communities has positive ramifications for both the local and national economy, and the overall costs incurred by tree planting is often offset by the economic value they contribute once they reach maturity. Outside of a tree’s commonly associated economic value as a material commodity, there are also significant economic benefits to trees in their capacity for removing and storing CO2. The secondary economic value of planting trees should not be ignored as they have proven to reduce pollution levels, cool temperatures, and limit noise pollution. Furthermore, they can increase the desirability of an area, thus boosting the local property prices. But determining the value of trees is challenging, as many of their benefits and contributions are difficult to quantify, such as the positive impact they have on mental and physical health. However, a 2018 report by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs estimated the total value of the contribution made by the UK’s three million hectares of woodland at approximately £4.9 billion per year. Moreover, the value of the benefits of non-woodland trees was estimated to be between £1.4 billion and £3.8 billion, depending on the metrics and methodology used. A single tree with a canopy diameter of 30 metres can provide hundreds of pounds to the UK economy each year. Trees Under Threat Despite the wide-ranging benefits that trees have on surrounding human populations, they face significant threat across the world, not only through deforestation but also due to insufficient government planning for urban tree canopy cover. For example, one study found the urban canopy tree cover in the United States to be declining at a rate of around 36 million trees per year. This is largely down urbanisation outgrowing tree planting, as well as the spread of tree diseases and pest infestations. In the UK, the government has targets set for increasing tree cover, but for many these targets are too little too late. Mike Childs, Head of Policy at Friends of the Earth, states: “The government’s suggestion of increasing tree cover in England from 14.5% to 17.5% by 2050 is completely inadequate,” and argues that tree cover should be doubled. In response, former Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison recognised the “extraordinary financial value of the trees in our streets, our parks and our countryside.” However, she decried the limited protection of trees, citing the example of the East of England which has lost half of its trees in the past 150 years. Going Forward It is hoped that the latest research on the benefits of trees will be used to inform urban designers and town planners on how to incorporate trees into development projects to ensure we continue to reap the numerous rewards that trees offer. Environment: Forests Being Restored By Animals Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Editor: Ziryan Aziz / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Environment: Forests being Restored by Animals

    Sophie Ranson investigates how fauna and seed dispersion may contribute to higher levels of forest restoration than previously thought. Photo by Amber Shadow Plant species survival depends on seed dispersal. That is, the process of transporting a seed to a new site for germination. The role of animals in this process has long been documented. In the tropics, for example, animals can disperse up to 80% of tree species. But new research indicates that fauna cultivates even greater levels of forest restoration than previously thought. A recent study from the Yale School of the Environment has revealed the most intricate picture of wildlife’s role in seed dispersal. Using data collected across a century, the study enabled the analysis of regenerating forests across all stages of restoration - the first of its kind. Zooming in on Panama’s regenerating tropical forests aged from 20 to 100 years, the study illuminates the role of animal species in seed dispersal parallel to the age of the forest. In younger regenerating forests, smaller terrestrial mammals – such as birds and bats – headed up most of the seed dispersal. That baton was passed to larger species, predominantly flightless mammals, in later stages (aged 20 years and over). Ultimately, animals secure plant abundance and diversity. Coupled with proximity to old growth forests, minimal human impact was also pinpointed as a key catalyst for greater seed dispersal levels. In areas with little to no hunting, for example, an abundance of fauna is available for seed dispersal. Hunting is the greatest threat to wildlife populations in the Congo basin, with larger-bodied species most at risk. The reduction of keystone species, such as elephants and great apes, results in imbalances in critical ecological services, including seed dispersal, as biodiversity richness suffers across entire trophic chains. And when the wildlife community collapses, so too does one of the earth’s mighty defence mechanisms against climate change: forests. Did you know? More than 80% of tree species found in the tropics can be distributed by animals. - Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour Why Forest Cover Matters Forests cover just a third of the Earth’s surface, yet house up to 80% of biodiversity. These vast green spaces also absorb twice as many CO2 emissions as they emit, making them critical carbon sinks. Deforestation swells mean regional air temperatures. In fact, the World Resources Institute estimates that tropical deforestation alone heats up the local average temperature by 1°C annually. It’s no surprise, therefore, that forest restoration is chief on the list of many climate-focused projects. Yet few stem from the symbiotic relationship between animals and plant life. “When we talk about forest restoration, people typically think about going out and digging holes and planting seedlings,” says Liza Comita, Professor of Tropical Forest Ecology at the Yale School of the Environment and co-contributor to the study. “That's actually not a very cost-effective or efficient way to restore natural forests. If you have a nearby preserved intact forest, plus you have your animal seed dispersers around, you can get natural regeneration, which is a less costly and labour-intensive approach.” “In these tropical environments, animals are paramount to a speedy recovery of forests." - Sergio Estrada-Villegas, Yale University, School of the Environment Seeding new hope for forest restoration Projects should instead focus on wildlife management, maximising biodiversity via efforts to attract seed-dispersing wildlife. Promising methods include: increasing the structural complexity of the vegetation; levelling up the number of perches available; and making food sources, particularly fruit, plentiful. The abundance of frugivores – an animal that thrives predominantly on fruit – in deforested areas leads to a “seed rain evenness and diversity up to five times greater” than areas with less fruit availability, according to one study. Beyond seed dispersal, animals also foster fruitful results for fertilisation, which is foundational to forest restoration. Fertilisation ramps up biological activity, replenishing lost nutrients in a site. “In these tropical environments, animals are paramount to a speedy recovery of forests,” emphasises Sergio Estrada Villegas, the study’s lead author. Estrada Villegas hopes the findings will build a new roadmap for restoration projects, expediting nature’s bounty in forests globally. Wildcats In England: A Possible Return Researched by Phoebe Agnew-Bass / Editor: Ellis Jackson / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • The Treaty to Protect International Waters

    Aimee Jones assesses the UN High Seas Treaty's potential to safeguard international waters amid ongoing threats to the ocean and marine life from human activity. Photo by John Towner Historically, only 1% of international waters have been protected. The High Seas Treaty, agreed by UN Member States in March 2023, aims to change that. Deemed crucial for enforcing the pledge that several countries made at the UN Biodiversity Conference in 2022 to protect one third of the sea (and land) by 2030, the treaty provides a means to protect the ocean from pressures caused by human activity. Protection for the High Seas The high seas, also known as international waters, make up two-thirds of the ocean. Governance of these areas is difficult as they lie beyond the control of any country. Known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction treaty (BBNJ), the new treaty aims to protect biodiversity by allowing the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) at a global level. The journey to reaching agreement was a long one. Commenting on the historic deal in March 2023, director of the High Seas Alliance Rebecca Hubbard said, “Following a two-week-long rollercoaster of a ride of negotiations and superhero efforts in the last 48 hours, governments reached agreement on key issues that will advance protection and better management of marine biodiversity in the high seas. What happens on the high seas will no longer be ‘out of sight, out of mind’.” The Importance of the Treaty The ocean makes up 71% of the Earth's surface and has an undeniable impact on human life. In addition to providing sources of food and regulating our climate, the ocean also generates over half of the oxygen on the planet. With 10% of all marine species at risk of extinction, the urgent need for marine protection is clear. Some of the biggest causes of marine extinction are pollution and overfishing, both of which the treaty could potentially tackle. Besides marine protection, the treaty also seeks to right inequalities. With so much of the ocean still unexplored and unmapped, there is significant interest in the potential genetic resources it might hold. The treaty provides for the sharing of marine genetic resources between countries fairly and equitably. These resources could potentially contribute towards food and pharmaceuticals, which could especially benefit poorer countries which might not otherwise be able to recover such resources. Historically, only 1% of the high seas have been under protection and conservation protocols, despite the fact that the ocean makes up 95% of the world’s biosphere, produces 50% of the planet’s oxygen and soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. - UNFCCC The Future of the Treaty While the aims of the treaty are admirable, there is a lack of detail, particularly with regards to the fishing industry, and questions remain about how MPAs will protect against commercial fishing. Activities will still be allowed to take place within these areas, provided that they are in line with conservation objectives, potentially limiting fishing, shipping and exploration activities. Even in already protected areas of the sea, marine life can come under threat. In many of Britain's protected areas, for example, industrial-scale bottom trawling still takes place. The government was presented with amendments to the fisheries bill in 2020 that could have seen supertrawlers banned from these areas, but voted against it. The treaty is a major step in the right direction when looking at climate change and limiting long-term damage caused by humans. However, it is far from clear whether the necessary protections can be put in place quickly enough to match the urgency of the situation. The UN must wait until at least 60 countries have signed the treaty before it can be implemented. Also critical is the funding. The EU has stated that it will work to ensure ratification happens swiftly, and pledged €40 million in funding towards a Global Ocean Programme. Time will tell whether this is enough to realise the objectives of the long-awaited treaty. Similar articles: Salmon Deaths: 15 Million in 2022 Researched by Alekia Gill & Ellis Jackson / Editor: Laura Pollard / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • University Strikes: A National Concern

    Alekia Gill explores the ongoing UCU strikes, questioning the future for both staff and students amidst the dispute over pay and working conditions. Photo by Edwin Andrade A report by the University and College Union (UCU) found that, in 2021 to 2022, universities across the UK generated a surplus income of £2.6 billion, the highest produced in four years. This data is taken solely from universities that have been involved in industrial disputes regarding treatment of staff, the underpayment of workers and cuts to pensions. Staff at over 143 universities have been involved in industrial action since 2018, with a Marking and Assessment Boycott taking place over summer, and a five-day UK-wide strike taking place at the beginning of term as part of the long-running dispute. Individual universities can also take matters into their own hands when it comes to continued disruption and management decisions, such as at the University of the Highlands and Islands, where six days of strike action took place in October over job cuts. Signs of Progress At rallies and picket lines at The University of Edinburgh, staff and students testified to the poor conditions provided by the university, leading lecturers to deal with growing piles of administrative tasks and limited time to prepare tutorials for subjects they may never have encountered before. Marking is often done during unpaid hours and administrative staff can become so overwhelmed with requests that responses can take up to two weeks. Recent years have also seen strikes in response to pension cuts. In October 2023, Universities UK agreed to restore pension payments to previous levels before a 35% cut was made in April 2022. Commenting on the agreement, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We have pension justice. We now move on to delivering justice on pay and job security.’ Impact on Students For students during strike action and ongoing disputes, learning conditions are heavily disrupted, if not non-existent. Despite this, universities have been unwilling to provide compensation for students who have paid full fees for the entire university experience but are not receiving teaching for much of their studies. For example, the Marking and Assessment boycott led to countless degrees being indefinitely deferred, causing many to lose out on postgrad places, job offers and subsequently, VISAs. For international students who paid over the normal amount to study in the UK, a lack of concern from management is a major cause of frustration. At the University of Edinburgh, the £43k pay rise for Vice-Chancellor Sir Peter Mathieson was nothing short of controversial, since students at the university were left graduating without degree classifications. "This is just the start for our union. We have pension justice. We now move on to delivering justice on pay and job security. We will not stop until we create a higher education sector that properly values its staff." - Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary Looking to the Future At a rally in September, University of Edinburgh Brand Membership Secretary Sue Sierra pointed out that ‘it is unprecedented for a union of our size to win a mandate for industrial action three times in a row. The rules are set up to be difficult for trade unions, so employers are counting on us to not be able to win this mandate for action’. In a significant blow, the UCU announced in November that turnout for the vote on further strike action did not reach the necessary threshold. Turnout was 42.59%, below the 50% threshold, with 68.32% voting in favour of strike action. Meanwhile, the UCU reported that staff at further education colleges across England had voted overwhelmingly in favour of strikes, which took place in November. It is not clear what will come next in the ongoing union disputes. One thing that has been clear, however, is the support from students. One student at the September rally in Edinburgh stated: ‘We stand for fairness, for dignity, and for the future of education’. A joint statement from University of Edinburgh management and the UCU stated that both sides acknowledged the disruption that had been caused and its effects on students. The priority, both parties stated, is to provide quality grades and feedback and to finalise awards and progression from the last academic year, while providing students with the best possible teaching standards. The question of when this will happen, however, has been left unanswered. Similar articles: Key Workers: Strikes over Pay and Conditions Researched by Alekia Gill & Ellis Jackson / Editor: Laura Pollard / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Climate Justice: The Rise of Legal Actions

    Sophie Ranson investigates the surge in climate litigation, and how court action can be used as a tool to achieve climate justice Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm The use of the courts in the fight against climate injustice is becoming increasingly commonplace. A 2023 report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) found that global climate litigation cases more than doubled in five years – rising from 884 in 2017 to 2,180 in 2022. At the root of this is frustration over government inaction. "There is a distressingly growing gap between the level of greenhouse gas reductions the world needs to achieve in order to meet its temperature targets, and the actions that governments are actually taking to lower emissions,” said Michael Gerrard, Faculty Director at the Sabin Centre for Climate Change Law. “This inevitably will lead more people to resort to the courts.” Now, governments are being held to account by groups and individuals through litigation. Climate-related cases occurred in 65 forums worldwide, across all judicial court levels, from regional to national to international, as well as tribunals and quasi-judicial bodies. The report identified six main categories of claims: Cases relying on human rights enshrined in international law and national constitutions Challenges to domestic non-enforcement of climate-related laws and policies Litigants seeking to keep fossil fuels in the ground Advocates for greater climate disclosures and an end to greenwashing Claims addressing corporate liability and responsibility for climate harms Claims addressing failures to adapt to the impacts of climate change. While the majority of cases originated in the US, 17% arose in non-Western countries. This includes Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which home some of the world’s most at-risk communities to the effects of climate change. Did you know? The total number of cases connected to climate change more than doubled in the five years since 2017. - United Nations New Voices Take Centre Stage in the Courtroom Climate litigation has created a stage for previously marginalised groups, such as young people and women, to make their case. In 2016, a seven-year-old girl from Karachi, Pakistan sued her country’s Supreme Court for violating her human rights for allowing the burning of coal for electricity generation. One year later, a nine-year-old named Ridhima from India filed a similar case. “My government has failed to take steps to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing extreme climate conditions. This will impact both me and future generations,” Ridhima told The Independent. The UNEP report identified a total of 34 cases that were instigated by, or on behalf of, people aged 25 and under. Yet engagement in climate change litigation remains intergenerational. In March 2023, thousands of senior women banded together to sue their home country of Switzerland before the European Court of Human Rights, demanding more radical climate action. Companies, too, are feeling the heat, as courts order organisations to cough up for inadequate environmental action. In June 2023, a German court ruled that carmakers Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz owe compensation for emissions-cheating devices. Commenting on the landmark 2021 court decision that oil giant Royal Dutch Shell must slash its emissions by 45% by 2030, Paul Benson, a lawyer for NGO Client Earth said: "[It] shows the Paris agreement has teeth - not just against governments, but against companies." "This resolution sends a message that nobody can take nature, clean air and water, or a stable climate away from us – at least, not without a fight" - Inger Andersen, UN Environment Programme Executive Director, on a UN decision to declare a healthy environment a human right Fighting For a Healthy Environment Roda Verheyen, a successful environmental lawyer from Germany, attributed the increased use of climate litigation to three factors: court timings, evidence and culture. The nature of climate change litigation means that some cases may wait years for resolution. “Courts take a long time to actually come to conclusions," she told the BBC, giving the plaintiff time to add to their body of evidence. Simultaneously, an ever-growing body of research cements climate change as a man-made phenomenon. This makes lawyers better positioned to defend plaintiffs in court. "And then obviously the narrative of what society perceives climate change to be has changed," she commented. "A lot of law is flexible to some degree, because you always have to interpret existing rules. And when [judges] do that, they take into account societal norms and how belief systems might have changed." In 2022, for example, the UN declared a ‘healthy environment’ a human right. While not legally binding, the intergovernmental organisation hopes the move will have a trickle-down effect on national climate policies. It is also expected that the new UN policy will fuel rising climate action in the courtroom by environmental campaigners. "This resolution sends a message that nobody can take nature, clean air and water, or a stable climate away from us – at least, not without a fight," according to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP. But climate litigation isn’t a silver bullet for climate action, Benson warned. "It's just one of the levers [alongside activism, policy and science] that can be pulled to trigger necessary change." Similar articles: UK Government Sued Over Climate Policy Researched by Phoebe Agnew-Bass / Editor: Laura Pollard / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • The Struggle of Black Women in Healthcare

    Manhaaza Ashfaq highlights risks for black pregnant women due to healthcare access inequalities and representation gaps. Photo by Stacy Ropati Historical Western perspectives on minorities have contributed to discriminatory behaviours in healthcare. It can often stem from unconscious biases that people unknowingly acquire throughout their lives, but nonetheless this Western bias poses a danger to the lives of women who deviate from the norms and values. Prejudice is deeply ingrained within the system, exceeding personal racial beliefs and policies and as a result institutional racism plays a significant role in the mortality rates of Black mothers and infants, as well as health complications pre- and post-birth. Racial Disparities in Maternal Healthcare A report published by MBRRACE-UK revealed that between 2019 and 2021, 241 women died during or up to six weeks after pregnancy, among 2,066,997 births, and a further 495 died during or one year later. According to the research, Black women are four times more likely, and Asian women are twice as likely to experience pregnancy-related deaths in comparison to white women in the UK. However, this disparity among racial groups is not limited to the UK. Research shows that every year, approximately 700 women die in the US due to complications related to pregnancy, and that 84% of these deaths are preventable. Between 2018 and 2021, the maternal mortality rate for Black women during pregnancy or within 42 days of giving birth was significantly higher than for White women. Although these statistics reflect the COVID pandemic, the notable disparity between the treatment of ethnic minorities compared to White individuals by the healthcare system predated this time, and has since been exacerbated. The gap in the maternal mortality rates is also relevant to the infant mortality rates - the number of babies who die within the first year. Babies born to Black women are over twice as likely to die in comparison to those born to White women (10.6 vs. 4.4 per 1,000). The inadequate healthcare system creates a ripple effect as the consequences of ethnic minority pregnant women being treated insufficiently increase the risks of health complications for newborns. The Office for National Statistics found that in 2021, the death rate of Black babies before and during delivery was higher (6.9 stillbirths per 1,000 births) compared to babies of other ethnicities. Such statistics indicate that social, economic, and racial factors have adverse effects on Black women’s pregnancies, ultimately subjecting their babies to risks as well. Discrimination In Access To Care One possible reason pregnant Black women face challenges within maternal healthcare is due to social barriers limiting their access to care. There has been identified a correlation between a high maternal mortality rate amongst women of all races, and residence in deprived areas. The 2022 MBRRACE-UK’s report revealed that, one in nine women who died during or after pregnancy had "severe and multiple disadvantages." These disadvantages include limited access to healthcare, health risks, educational barriers, low employment, financial instability, and limited access to information. Enduring systematic racism and xenophobia means ethnic minorities can have potentially limited opportunities compared to their White counterparts. Such socioeconomic factors play a significant role in the lives of pregnant women, placing both their well-being and that of their babies at risk. The US's lack of universal healthcare makes easy-access healthcare a privilege that financially deprived individuals cannot afford. Consequently, Black women receive inadequate levels of prenatal care in their first trimester and most healthcare plans restrict postnatal care to just one appointment six weeks after birth. This places women and their babies at an elevated risk of developing life-threatening complications, as well as heightening the possibility of stillbirth and premature births. Crear-Perry, the Founder of the National Birth Equity Collaborative stated that "We don’t have an environment that protects moms. The same racism, classism and gender oppression that causes Black mamas and Indigenous mamas to die too early also causes them to have babies too early." High mortality rates of Black pregnant women and their infants primarily result from the absence of supportive environments and systematic inequities. Marginalised communities typically face an endless cycle of racism, classism and gender oppression because these injustices reinforce one another, making it harder for Black pregnant women to access social and medical support. Did You Know? Pregnancy related mortality rates for Black American women are over three times higher compared to the rate for white women (41.4 vs. 13.7 women per 100,000) - KFF Racial Bias In Healthcare The inequitable care of pregnant women from different racial backgrounds also stems from the divide that exists between White health workers and ethnic minority patients. The UK based Black Equity Organisation’s 2022 report shows that 65% of Black people said they had faced discrimination by healthcare professionals due to their ethnicity. There is a growing consensus amongst scholars and scientists that "the black body is biologically and fundamentally different from the white body" specifically that they are "stronger, faster, and more agile", therefore, they have a higher pain tolerance. This can mean Black patients are less likely to be medicated because their pain is either left unidentified, or it is recognised and ignored. Embodying such beliefs leads to a lack of empathy for Black patients, which is especially detrimental to pregnant women given their existing emotional and physical vulnerability. A 2022 report by Birthrights found that UK healthcare professionals were dismissive of mothers experiencing pain and expressing concerns about their babies’ health. Many also failed to identify health issues in infants who displayed clear signs of illnesses or complications because medical staff could not discern any physical symptoms on different skin tones. This led to babies having health conditions such as jaundice, brain injuries, and other developmental issues. Likewise, inadequate care of mothers caused medical conditions such as a "life-threatening blood clot", sepsis, and inflicted emotional damage when cultural needs and autonomy were disrespected. “It’s outrageous that these inequalities have been allowed to exist. Groups like ours and activists have been raising the alarm for over 30 years. Things should be dramatically improving with the advances in technology, but these disparities have remained.” - Tinuke Awe, Fivexmore Co-founder What Can Be Done? Although discrimination can be unintentional, healthcare workers’ unconscious biases jeopardize the well-being of pregnant women and newborns. Creating a safe environment for Black pregnant women to minimise their trauma is crucial, and the following considerations are important: 1. Enhance accessibility by implementing affordable medical support through government policies for low-income individuals. 2. educate healthcare staff on diverse cultural needs and promote empathy to prevent traumatic patient interactions, particularly considering concerns of ethnic minority pregnant women. 3. Foster an inclusive healthcare staff through research on diverse skin tones and medical conditions. Diverse backgrounds among healthcare workers aid in symptom identification, enhancing patient trust and understanding. To improve healthcare access for disadvantaged Black pregnant women, addressing the ingrained Western bias within the healthcare system is essential. By combating oppressive social attitudes towards marginalised groups and providing healthcare staff with empathy and communication training, we can provide every women a safer pregnancy. Similar articles: Protests in Poland: Women’s Rights are Wavering Researched by Robyn Donovan / Editor: Ziryan Aziz / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Scotland: The Proposal to Decriminalise Drugs

    Harry Hetherington discusses the Scottish Government's recent proposal for decriminalisation of drug use amid continued high drug-related death rates in the country. Photo by Gras Grun Statistics on drug-related death in Scotland published in August have added fuel to the debate around illegal drug use in the country, coming one month after a proposal for decriminalisation. According to the National Records of Scotland's report, 1,051 deaths were attributed to drug misuse in 2022. This is the lowest level for five years and indicates that deaths may have passed their peak. However, this figure still represents the highest rate in Europe, at 15 times the European average. Why is the Rate in Scotland So High? The reasons why Scotland exceeds other European countries (including the rest of the UK) in drug deaths are complex. Analysis by NHS Scotland and the University of Glasgow cites the legacy of economic deprivation caused by deindustrialisation as a significant factor in the explosion in drug deaths seen in subsequent decades. People in Scotland’s top twentieth percentile for deprivation make up more than half of all drug-related deaths and are 16 times more likely to die from drug misuse than the least-deprived 20 percent. Report author Dr John Minton argues that similar surges in suicide rates among deprived communities are “consistent with the hypothesis that economic and other policy decisions during the 1980s created rising income inequality, the erosion of hope amongst those who were least resilient and able to adjust, and resulted in a delayed negative health impact”. This delayed impact is exacerbated by Scotland’s ageing population – there are now significantly more over-65s (1,091,000) than those under the age of 15 (832,300) – and this is reflected in drug user demographics. The average age of a person dying due to drug misuse rose from 32.2 in 2000 to 44.8 in 2022. Among older drug users and addicts, a combination of decades of drug use and related chronic medical conditions are increasing the risk of overdosing. A more recent driver of increased drug deaths is the change in the types of drugs available to users. Fiona Measham, Chair in Criminology at the University of Liverpool, has cited a rise in deaths caused by synthetic opioids, by drugs bought from the internet, and those attributed to multiple drugs (‘polydrug’ deaths). Opioids were implicated in over 80 percent of deaths, but often in combination with new psychoactive substances (NPSs), drugs which have been made to mimic the effects of substances such as cocaine or ecstasy. The increase in synthetic drug misuse has also been connected to the Taliban’s ban on the production and trade of opium in 2022, drastically reducing the global heroin supply, which Afghanistan had dominated. The resulting rise in prices has led to greater prevalence of synthetic opioids in the UK like fentanyl which have a higher potency. What is the Scottish Government Proposing? As detailed in a policy paper published in July, the Scottish government proposes decriminalising the possession of drugs for personal use. Decriminalisation stops the criminalising of the user (prohibition) while stopping short of legalising the drugs market (legalisation). Announcing the proposals, Scotland’s minister for drugs and alcohol policy Elena Whitham stated that “the war on drugs has failed”. She continued: “criminalisation increases the harms people experience. Criminalisation kills.” The vast majority of drug offences recorded in Scotland relate to possession, although a very small proportion of these lead to a custodial sentence. Currently, laws covering drugs are made in Westminster rather than Holyrood, and are primarily covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Scotland does, though, have the power to make its own laws to tackle abuse of substances like alcohol. The paper argues that decriminalisation would not be a panacea, but that it would de-stigmatise users, enabling them to access support and be guided through recovery without fear of being penalised. By encouraging users to access help before they reach a crisis point, the proposal argues that users would be less at risk of unsafe drug use or overdosing. “Criminalisation increases the harms people experience. Criminalisation kills.” - Elena Whitham, Scottish Minister for Drugs and Alcohol Policy The proposal also advocates for harm reduction measures such as supervised drug consumption facilities and increased access to the drug naloxone, an emergency antidote for overdoses of opiates and opioids. Such an approach differs to a more traditional strategy that requires abstinence as a measure of successful treatment, and as an expectation for users before they can access treatment. Some experts note that government policy that focuses on abstinence can do more harm than good. Commenting on the drug statistics in the country, Iain McPhee at the University of the West of Scotland pointed to “the lack of focus and funding towards actual harm reduction” as having a significant impact. Proponents of drug decriminalisation argue that outright prohibition of drugs creates an unregulated illicit market which enriches organised crime and ultimately harms society. They argue that decriminalisation reduces the risk of harm for users, though the government paper concedes that it would still leave an unregulated market which would not address the illicit origin or safety of the drug supply. Therefore, the proposal leaves the door open for the creation of a strictly regulated legalised market in the future led by an “evidence-based approach”. Does Decriminalisation Work? The Scottish government paper cites Portugal, one of 30 countries worldwide to have decriminalised drug use in some form. The Portuguese government made the change in 2001 in the wake of an HIV epidemic caused by widespread heroin use in the country. Advocates of the policy point to the creation of Commissions for the Dissuasion of Drug Use, three-member panels made up of social workers, legal advisors and medical professionals, which hear an apprehended drug user’s case and decide on appropriate sanctions and treatment plans. In the early years of the change, over 90% of Commission cases resulted in administrative rather than punitive measures. Overdose deaths fell from 369 in 1999 to 30 in 2016 (in a country with almost double Scotland’s population). Meanwhile, the number of people incarcerated for drug offences decreased from 3,863 to 1,140. However, longer-term academic assessment has found mixed results in terms of the impact on people being able to access better support for drug addiction. Dr João Goulão, who is known as the architect of Portugal’s drug policy, noted that "decriminalisation by itself gives you nothing" in the struggle to reduce drug deaths. Instead, it is the starting point in a strategy which also requires a public health-oriented approach to treatment and recovery. Could Decriminalisation Work in Scotland? As the current legal framework limits the changes to drug policy that Scotland can implement, the push for drug law reforms must be viewed in the context of independence. The government report was preceded by a 2019 SNP resolution formally adopting decriminalisation as a policy aim and describing existing legislation as “not fit for purpose”. Anne-Marie Ward, founder of addiction recovery charity Favor UK, stated that she “[doesn’t] believe for a moment” that the Scottish government is seriously considering decriminalising drugs in the absence of the necessary massive investment in drug treatment which would be needed, and is instead using the issue because it highlights a non-devolved aspect of UK law. Decriminalisation, Ward says, is an “extremist” view designed to manufacture a new constitutional grievance. Ward co-authored the Right to Recovery Bill, an alternative bill proposed by the Scottish Conservatives advocating for the universal provision of addiction treatment for drug users regardless of their past behaviour, which does not explicitly call for decriminalisation. Whether it is a genuine attempt to enact fundamental change or a piece of political manoeuvring in the debate on independence, the Scottish government is right that decriminalisation is incompatible with the UK’s current drug laws. As if to prove the point, a Downing Street spokesperson responded to the report by stating that “there are no plans to alter our tough stance on drugs”, while admitting that they had not read the proposal. Future Drug Strategy Scotland’s high rate of drug-related deaths has no obvious solution. Understandably, the highly charged nature of the debate can skew public discourse. In 1998, when the Portuguese government was forming its drug strategy, it consulted an expert panel, which suggested that there are “many pre-conceived notions about the use of drugs, many of which are false and result from uninformed emotional reactions”. The policy that Portugal settled on may not be transferable to the political reality of a country like Scotland, but the panel’s observation is still relevant. In practical terms, decriminalisation can be sought through a change to UK-wide drug laws, devolving these laws to the Scottish parliament, or through Scottish independence. Even without decriminalisation, steps can and should be taken to tackle the crisis, such as massive investment in drug treatment programmes, a focus on harm reduction rather than total abstinence, and ensuring that all users qualify for treatment regardless of their past behaviour. Similar articles: United Nations: Life Expectancy, Education and Income Have Fallen Researched by Robyn Donovan / Editor: Laura Pollard / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Colombia: Oil Exploration Stopped for a Greener Future

    As the world scrabbles to deal with the climate crisis, Colombia’s decision to halt oil exploration raises the question of whether other countries will make similarly ambitious plans, as Aimee Louise Jones finds. Photo by Jan Kronies Amid the climate crisis, good news can seem hard to come by. In this context, the decision by Colombian president Gustavo Petro to stop issuing new oil exploration permits attracted a lot of buzz, as well as criticism. Colombia's Promise Announcing the move at the World Economic Forum in January 2023, minister for energy and mines Irene Vélez said, “We have decided not to award new oil and gas exploration contracts, and while that has been very controversial, it’s a clear sign of our commitment in the fight against climate change”. While the decision has indeed sparked much debate, it did not come as a surprise, as Petro had made his stance on Colombia’s overreliance on oil clear during his campaign for the presidency. With oil making up 40% of exports and 12% of government income in Colombia, however, this is a very ambitious change. Former president Julio César Vera stated that by stopping oil exploration permits, Colombia would be “killing their golden-egg laying goose". Others have said that halting oil exploration will not change the global demand for fossil fuels but will instead hurt Colombia’s economy. Countering these arguments, Petro stated that the end of oil exploration permits shows a clear commitment in the global fight against climate change. He pointed to tourism as a key sector for investment; with enviable natural beauty, the South American country has potential for further growth in this industry. Petro has also highlighted Colombia’s potential for producing clean energy, which could eventually fill the gap left by fossil fuels. "To have even a 50:50 shot of achieving the 1.5°C target, according to a March report by the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD), rich countries need to stop producing oil and gas by 2034, and countries in Colombia’s middle income-bracket must do so by 2043. In climate terms, Petro’s two-decade production phase-out is not ambitious - it’s just about acceptable." - Time The Future of Fossil Fuels Other environmentalists have said that while Colombia’s decision on oil exploration is a step in the right direction, there are other key environmental issues within the country that are not being addressed. For example, they note that cattle ranching and unsustainable agriculture are driving deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. This illustrates the multifaceted nature of the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity, which require action on various fronts. Many countries, including almost all of the top 33 oil-producing countries, have pledged under the Paris Agreement to try and limit global warming to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius. However, none of them have set timelines to end oil production that would help them to achieve this goal. At the COP26 summit, approximately 20 countries also pledged to stop financing fossil fuels abroad by the end of 2022. The countries, which included the UK and the US, committed to moving funding towards clean energy instead. However, rich countries have come under fire for failing to stick to their promises, and continuing to invest in fossil fuel projects overseas. In a significant move, US president Joe Biden told federal agencies in 2021 to stop funding for many new fossil fuel projects abroad. Despite this, leaders of America’s Export-Import Bank made the decision to lend almost $100 million towards the exploration of an oil refinery in Indonesia. Environmental group Friends of the Earth labelled this a “direct violation” of the commitments that the Biden administration had made to ending federal support for such projects overseas. An Outlier on the Global Stage? With the world struggling to contain climate change and deal with its impacts, positive steps such as that taken by Colombia can provide a basis for cautious optimism. Other countries are facing criticism for not staying true to their claims and commitments to combat climate change. As Colombia now makes the first step away from fossil fuels, it remains to be seen whether other countries will follow suit. Similar articles: Record Oil And Gas Profits: Paid For By The People Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Editor: Laura Pollard / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Mental Health: Charities in UK Alarmed at Youth Crisis

    Mary Jane Amato examines the factors behind declining youth mental health and explores solutions for a happier start in life. Photo by Ron Lach A sharp spike in mental health issues hit the UK following the pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions, with some of the worst impacts being felt by children and young adults. The cost-of-living crisis has also been a significant factor in the continued rise in stress levels, anxiety disorders and severe mental health problems. With recent studies illustrating the extent of the issue, the country is starting to recognise that what was a silent but dangerous problem is now becoming a genuine emergency. The Impact of Lockdown on Young People's Mental Health The Children’s Society reported that the percentage of children aged 5 to 16 likely to have a mental health problem has risen by 50% in the last three years, now affecting 1 in 6 children. For those aged 17 to 19, the figure jumped to 1 in 4 between 2021 and 2022. In a worrying trend, the Good Childhood Report 2022 found that 1 in 8 children were unhappy with school, and 1 in 9 children had low wellbeing. The Covid-19 lockdowns played a pivotal part in these declines. According to a report from Mental Health Foundation Scotland commissioned as part of Barnardo’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Core Priority Programme, since the pandemic young people have reported more significant depression and anxiety symptoms and harmful psychological consequences. The perceived threat of the virus and the confusion, disturbance and isolation imposed by the health-related emergency all contributed to the problem. The government’s report on Covid-19 mental health and wellbeing found that manifestations of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder increased significantly in children and young people aged 7.5 to 12 years immediately after the pandemic. Some parents and carers also reported more mental health problems in their children over these months, as well as behavioural and attentional difficulties. Happiness levels in children and youth seemed to be at the lowest point during school shut-downs. The Cost-of-living Crisis and the Mental Health Emergency Covid-19 and the consequent lockdowns have not been the only factors contributing to this alarming situation. The charity Mind has estimated that the cost-of-living crisis has impacted 8 in 10 Britons' mental health. The circumstances have influenced people's capacity to make space for and manage their mental health. Worryingly, nearly 18% reported that the cost-of-living crisis is reducing the frequency with which they can openly discuss these difficulties. The Heads Up: Rethinking Mental Health Services for Vulnerable Young People report from July 2022 likewise painted a bleak picture. Drawing on global data, it found that mental health challenges often start early in life, with a potential knock-on impact on young people’s developmental progress, putting them at higher risk of drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, crime and exploitation. Calling for a “once-in-a-generation package of support to make our mental health services for children fit for purpose,” Anne Longman, Chairman of the Commission for Young Lives, set out a strong case in the foreword to the 2022 report. According to Longman, “The Covid pandemic was a disaster for the mental health of many children, and thousands of young people are still struggling with its aftereffects… This deterioration in the mental health of so many of our young people, combined with a mental health support system still not able to cope with demand or reach all of those who need it, is a huge generational threat to our nation’s future national prosperity…’ The percentage of children aged 5 to 16 likely to have a mental health problem has risen by 50% in the last three years. - The Mental Health Society A Government Failing? In the wake of a recent study showing that just one-quarter of English primary schools can offer school-based mental health support by the end of next year, ministers have been accused of failing to fully grasp the impact of mental illness striking children. With mental health disorders on the rise, specialist support teams were created to work with children in schools and address early symptoms, thereby reducing the pressure on the NHS. By the end of 2024, however, almost 73.4% of primary schools in England will not have access to these new mental health support teams (MHSTs). As the NHS struggles to deal with surging caseloads, a quarter of a million children in the UK with mental health problems have been unable to access help. According to research based on freedom of information request responses, some NHS trusts fail to treat 60% of people referred by GPs. Combined with the lack of MHSTs in many schools, the system is failing those children in dire need of mental health assistance. "This deterioration in the mental health of so many of our young people, combined with a mental health support system still not able to cope with demand or reach all of those who need it, is a huge generational threat to our nation’s future national prosperity..." - Anne Longman, Chair of the Commission for Young Lives Listening to Young People's Voices The mental health crisis affecting the youth in the UK is genuine, and the lack of substantial support from institutions means that it will not be over soon. Another aspect revealed by the numerous reports into the problem, however, is the desire of many charities and organisations to improve the situation for young people. In March 2022, The Young Foundation published youth-led peer research illustrating that young people became increasingly worried about their future both during and since the pandemic. The increase in anxiety about health, well-being and economic security has impacted young people significantly. Through the foundation, these individuals are expressing their thoughts and letting their opinions be known. The association with the #iwill fund, connected to the National Lottery Fund, helps them in this endeavour, using their voices to shape the development of the fund itself. The #iwill fund is a collective investment across England which pools money in a central investment pot to establish thousands of new social action opportunities for young people. The pandemic sowed the seeds for a mental health emergency, compounded by a cost-of-living crisis that has made dealing with mental health even harder. In this context, it is paramount that young people’s voices be heard. Starting from government institutions and schools and moving to social spaces, more changes must be implemented, backed by sufficient funding to support children and young people, setting them up for a happier future. Similar articles: An Understanding of Anxiety Researched by Adrian Windeler / Editor: Laura Pollard / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Sustainability: The Crackdown on Greenwashing

    Harry Hetherington examines what greenwashing is, and asks whether the latest EU Directive is enough to tackle the growing problem and spur meaningful climate action. Photo by Nur-andi Amid growing concern around the dubious environmental claims made by large carbon-emitting companies, the EU is seeking to counter ‘greenwashing’ through legislation. In March, the European Commission introduced the Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims. Commonly known as the Green Claims Directive, it recommends ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive’ penalties for firms which cannot justify their environmental claims. A 'Golden Age of Greenwashing'? Greenwashing is defined by Greenpeace as ‘a PR tactic that's used to make a company or product appear environmentally friendly without meaningfully reducing its environmental impact’. A term first used in the 1980s, it has become more prominent in recent years as companies with large carbon footprints have engaged in greenwashing to delay climate action. As such, Greenpeace has suggested that 'the last few years may well go down in history as the golden age of greenwashing’. According to Blanca Morales, Senior Coordinator for EU Ecolabel, European Environmental Bureau, ‘The proliferation of greenwashing is hampering the green transition: it hinders consumers’ ability to make informed sustainable choices, and makes it harder for the companies that strive to reduce their environmental impacts to differentiate themselves from free riders.’ Fossil fuel companies have altered their approach to climate change dramatically, as shown by their advertising strategies. The 1990s saw firms denying the existence of man-made climate change, before switching approach and passing responsibility onto consumers by getting individuals to assess their own carbon footprints in the 2000s. Increasingly, we are now seeing what renowned climatologist Michael Mann refers to as climate ‘doomism’. This narrative suggests that it is already too late to avert disaster, potentially causing people to give up. Such disengagement can be good news for polluters. Greenwashing is another form of these tactics, co-opting the language of environmentalism to placate consumers and governments. Recent examples include easyJet’s claim that customers can ‘fly carbon-neutral' and meat company JBS proclaiming in a full-page New York Times advert that bacon, chicken wings and steak could have net-zero emissions. Shell was criticised for misleading consumers by claiming that individuals could drive ‘carbon-neutral’. What they were referring to, however, was simply a promise to offset car fuel emissions by stopping deforestation. Carbon offsetting is offered as a solution by greenwashing companies and it is a contentious issue. Undoubtedly, offsetting has the potential to create a huge global financial market where companies buy and sell ‘carbon credits’ from each other and which incentivises reducing emissions. One problem is that the initial emissions created by companies are patently real, whereas the balancing-out of these emissions via offsetting can be falsely represented. While supporting and restoring natural carbon sinks such as forests and oceans is crucial, critiques of such schemes point out that they can distract from real climate action and cannot truly ‘offset’ emissions. A recent investigation by The Guardian showed that leading offsetting certifier Verra overstated the threats to forests supposedly ‘saved’ by offsetting deals by around 400% on average. Offsetting projects need to show that there would not have been carbon savings if the project was not initiated, that deforestation has not simply been pushed to another area, and that the project will have a duration long enough for carbon to be reabsorbed. What is the Green Claims Directive? The Directive is part of the European Green Deal, a policy initiative to make the European Union climate neutral by 2050. In 2021, the Commission conducted an online ‘sweep’ of green claims from a variety of business sectors such as clothing, cosmetics and household equipment. Of the 344 seemingly dubious claims it initially identified, it concluded that 37% of cases included statements like ‘conscious’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ without basis. Meanwhile, in 42% of cases the Commission ‘had reason to believe that the claim may be false or deceptive’. Across the EU, almost half of the 230 ecolabels available have either very weak or no verification procedure whatsoever. The Directive would give companies ten days to justify green claims before imposing penalties. Firms would need to substantiate their claims using a product life cycle analysis tool that covers all environmental impacts, and EU states would have to set up or support agencies to launch their own investigations into greenwashing allegations. Significantly, the Directive seeks to clarify the ambiguities related to carbon offsetting by making firms distinguish between their own carbon reduction efforts and their purchasing of carbon credits. A major focus is on consumer empowerment, allowing individuals to be fully informed. 'The proliferation of greenwashing is hampering the green transition: it hinders consumers’ ability to make informed sustainable choices, and makes it harder for the companies that strive to reduce their environmental impacts to differentiate themselves from free riders.’ - Blanca Morales, Senior Coordinator for EU Ecolabel, European Environmental Bureau Is Legislation Enough to Tackle Greenwashing? The spirit of the Directive has been praised by consumer groups, but they warn that proper enforcement of it is the key to its practical success. According to Monique Goyens, director of the European Consumer Organisation, ‘Authorities should regularly control green claims, publicly disclose their findings, and be able to fine companies who mislead consumers.’ EU Directives, if voted through by the European Parliament and Council, are legally binding. However, it is up to individual EU member states to transpose them into their own law, so the Green Claims Directive would still be susceptible to different implementations. Under the proposal, companies’ use of carbon offsets to achieve carbon neutrality must be certified and made clear to consumers. Still, the EU’s Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius stressed, ‘The message needs to be clear, we are not banning carbon offsets, they are allowed’. The requirement to clarify the exact nature of offsetting should stop the use of ‘phantom credits’ historically used by big firms to claim carbon neutrality. Despite this progress, it is still important to closely monitor the use of carbon sinks such as forest-planting in offsetting projects as they still risk being destroyed by decay, burning or moving north due to global heating. Did you know? Findings on ‘green’ claims by companies found that in 42 per cent of cases, the claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive. - European Commission The Future of Greenwashing While it is positive to see steps being taken against greenwashing, the practice won’t be disappearing anytime soon. Large carbon-emitting corporations continue to regard greenwashing as an effective and worthwhile practice, as evident in the money they spend on advertising which talks up their environmental credentials. Shell, for example, devoted 70% of its public communications to environmental messaging in 2021, according to a report from InfluenceMap, while investing just 10% of profits into ‘low carbon’ investments last year. Even then, Global Witness has argued that the majority of the company’s renewables and energy solutions division expenditure was devoted to gas, and just 1.5% into genuine renewables. Being alert to the language of greenwashing, distinguishing between carbon reduction measures and carbon offsetting, and scrutinising the effectiveness of carbon offsetting projects, are all important steps individuals can take when exercising their power as consumers, both inside and outside of the EU. Similar articles: Greenwashing: The Impression of Sustainability Researched by Emily Boldero / Editor: Laura Pollard / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Salmon Deaths: 15 Million in 2022

    Aleksandra Bienkowska reports on the causes of a worrying upsurge in salmon deaths in UK waters Photo by Cotton Bro Salmon farms are facing an accelerating number of fish deaths. Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) data shows that deaths increased to almost 15 million last year. With salmon death rates doubling quickly, campaigners are advocating for boycotts. Salmon farm producers blame natural causes Salmon deaths have increased from 5.81 million in 2020, to 8.58 million in 2021 and 15 million in 2022. Producers blame diseases, bacterial or viral infections, with large numbers of micro-jellyfish in British waters, suspected to be caused by climate change. “Wild Atlantic salmon has a survival rate of only around 1 to 2%, compared to around 85% for a farm-raised salmon,” said Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the membership body Salmon Scotland. “Throughout the year there will be different environmental pressures that affect survival rates. Farm-raised Scottish salmon typically face the biggest challenges in the autumn, when seawater temperatures peak. Scott describes consistently high rates of farmed salmon during 2022, prior to a jellyfish bloom reducing survival in the month of September to 95.3%, being 2.4% less than the past four-year average. Scott maintains the belief salmon farmers are competent in ensuring required standards are met, as providers of world-leading animal welfare; the salmon losses are described by Scott to be the consequences of “naturally occurring challenges”. Did you know? Salmon deaths in UK waters have almost tripled in the last three years - The Guardian The global outlook “The aquaculture industry has the audacity to boast of its fish ‘survival rates’, as though it is somehow acceptable for millions of individual fish to die each year from violent lice treatments or rough weather conditions,” said Abigail Penny, Executive Director of anti-cruelty charity Animal Equality UK. Penny goes on to describe the ways that aquatic lives are often seen as “little more than numbers on a page”, suffering from “miserable” existences and “many don’t even make it to the slaughterhouse." Don Staniford, director of the campaign Scamon Scotland, explains that the numbers of salmon deaths are higher than recorded statistics suggest, as the producers do not need to record all the mortalities. “I’ve kayaked out to farms at 5am in the summer when it’s light, before they’ve got to work, and you see dead fish lying belly up at the top of the cages. The others have sunk to the bottom. So the first thing they do is collect the dead fish. “About 25% of the salmon in sea cages are dying, so that’s about one in four,” he said. “If ramblers saw one in four cows or sheep dead in a field they’d be horrified, but because it’s underwater it’s out of sight, out of mind.” Salmon farming's role in the Scottish economy Salmon is the most exported food from the UK, which makes it a huge income stream. Just in Scotland, salmon farms bring around £760 million in a year. The Scottish minister plans to up export rates to 400,000 tonnes a year before 2030. Advocating against the proposal to increase production, campaigners are boycotting before lice and further preventable issues pose further threats to the salmon farm populations. "If ramblers saw one in four cows or sheep dead in a field they’d be horrified, but because it’s underwater it’s out of sight, out of mind." - Don Staniford, Scamon Scotland campaign Similar articles: The Devastating Impact of Ocean Floor Trawling Researched by Adrian Windeler / Editor: Mia Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • The Missing Children: A Global Problem

    Harry Hetherington explores the unique dangers that refugees and migrant children face in the UK and globally, and what can be done to prevent such disappearances Photo by Jeffrey Riley In January, it was reported in the UK that dozens of unaccompanied migrant children had gone missing from a Brighton hotel where they were being temporarily housed as part of a controversial Home Office policy. According to a whistle-blower from a Home Office contractor employed at the hotel, 136 children had been reported missing from the hotel in the previous 18 months and 79 remained unaccounted for. The news shocked many, but it was not an isolated incident. Instead, it highlighted a worrying nationwide trend. Missing child refugees in the UK Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children (UASCs) are defined by the Home Office as children claiming asylum while ‘not being cared for by an adult who in law or by custom has responsibility to do so’. Though many who are reported missing will be safe, the Brighton hotel’s whistleblower’s account painted a bleak picture. ‘Most of the children disappear into county lines’, they said, referring to the practice of transporting illegal drugs across county borders, a trade which often uses vulnerable young people. As evidence of the national scope of the problem, it was reported a month after the initial news broke that nearly two-thirds of the 43 police forces in England and Wales had recovered missing children from six hotels used by the Home Office to house unaccompanied asylum seekers. Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick admitted in parliament that 440 children had gone missing from the hotels since July 2021, and that 200 remained missing. The number remains high, with just 13 having been located by the end of February. The government policy at the heart of the controversy is itself unusual. Generally, unaccompanied children – refugees or UK citizens – are the responsibility of local authorities. Under their care, they are entitled to access to advocates, health assessments, and social worker visits. However, in this case the Home Office ‘took effective ownership’ and placed the unaccompanied migrants in regular hotels, ‘essentially converting them overnight into unregistered children’s homes’ which were not subject to the same local authority care. The Home Office argues that they have ‘no alternative’ but to enact the policy as a response to increased migrant channel crossings. It seems a lack of communication between services has increased the risks of child refugees slipping through the cracks and being made vulnerable. An absence of safe and legal routes to the UK, coupled with weakened institutions within the country, has had the effect of pushing people to society’s margins and sometimes into danger. The situation in the UK serves as a microcosm for the dangers faced by UASCs globally. "Over 4,600 unaccompanied children have been accommodated in hotels since July 2021. There have been 440 missing occurrences and 200 children remain missing" - Robert Jenrick, Minister for Immigration, 24 January 2023 The global outlook The 21st century has seen many regional and global migration waves, including from economic ruination in Venezuela, or from conflicts such as in South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. Children make up an outsized proportion of refugees: more than 40% of the total in 2021. The separation of children from guardians which so often occurs during displacement makes UASCs vulnerable. On average, 17 migrant and refugee children went missing every day in Europe between 2018 and 2020; 57% were not found within 12 months. It’s important not to overstate the sinister element to these disappearances: for example, in 2021 57% of cases were runaways, and only a very small minority of cases were confirmed to be criminal abductions. However, these figures don’t account for the large proportion of missing cases where there is no information available at all. Elsewhere in the world, trafficking is a common tool of exploitation of child refugees. On the Mexico-USA border, an estimated 75-80% of newly-arrived unaccompanied children are victims of human trafficking. Once reported missing, discrimination towards refugees can sometimes hinder efforts to relocate missing children. In the UK police have often assumed that missing asylum-seekers have simply absconded, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary that they have come to harm. This is not an assumption that the authorities would generally make in the case of a missing unaccompanied child who was a UK citizen. UASCs therefore face a dangerous mix of being more vulnerable to exploitation to begin with, and then being arguably less likely to be searched for when they do go missing. This apparent double-standard prevails even though a large majority of UASCs are ultimately granted asylum or other permission to remain in the UK – 77% from 2006-2021. What can be done? There are steps that authorities can take to lessen the likelihood UASCs disappearing and reducing the risks they may face. Firstly, information-sharing between nations and authorities must increase, and better data must be gathered. IOM recommends that data on the subject diversifies away from being ‘based on the qualitative accounts of children’s experiences’ and towards standardised data collection which distinguishes between different vulnerabilities faced, and disaggregates data by important factors like age and sex. Most importantly, a move away from a policy of detention and deterrence is vital for strengthening UASC trust in authorities and bolstering the resources of the state to care for them. The Europe-based INTERACT project argues that a ‘firewall’ must be put in place between immigration enforcement and child protection services, so that data collected is not accessed by border authorities for the purpose of detaining and deporting children. ‘Putting children’s rights above the enforcement of immigration rules’ will increase UASCs’ trust in authorities to ensure their safety. Without this trust, those who would report their disappearance would not do so, for fear of jeopardising the residency status of the child. Did you know? The equivalent of 17 children a day went missing in Europe between 2018 and 2020 - Missing Children in Europe Concluding thoughts In the case of the current Home Office hotel policy, the controversy looks set to continue. Over 100 refugee and children’s charities have now signed a letter urging the government to end the ‘unlawful and harmful’ policy which the letter states has ‘no legal basis’. Elsewhere in the country and in the world, child refugees face unique dangers on their journeys and unique barriers to accessing appropriate support. However, better information-sharing between authorities which is responsible and mindful of children’s wellbeing can lessen these challenges. Similar articles: The Unsettling Reality of a 'Warm Welcome' for Refugees Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Edited by Vanessa Clark / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit paper, advocating for those topics that matter. Subscribe from £1.16 today.

  • Banned in Italy: Male Chick Culling

    Aimee Jones explores the reforming of chick culling laws in Italy, France and Germany, and the impact of anti-cull campaigns Photo by Brian David Approximately seven billion male chicks are killed across the world each year, simply because they are deemed to be 'unprofitable'. Sadly, the killing of male chicks is widespread within the egg industry, yet not many people are aware of the cruelty that takes place in the process of providing their local supermarkets with eggs. Why are male chicks deemed unprofitable? Male chicks cannot produce eggs; therefore, no profit can be made from them within the egg industry. They also cannot be sold on to the meat industry as they are a different breed of chick to those that are bread to be eaten. Therefore, the industry sees no use in the male chicks and the decision to kill them is made. It is believed that approximately 29 million male chicks are killed each year in the UK alone; 25-40 million are killed in Italy and a huge 260 million are killed in the US. How are male chicks killed? Sadly, the ways in which the chicks’ lives are ended are all very brutal and cruel. Suffocation – Chicks are placed into cramped plastic bags and left to die Electrocution Decapitation – The chick's necks are snapped individually CO2 Killing – the use of a high CO2 gas slowly kills the chicks; this can be very painful and long lasting Maceration – live chicks are placed onto a conveyor belt and put through a shredder. In the UK, the most common method of killing the chicks is by using an inert gas. This kills the chicks within two minutes; much less painful than the high CO2 gasses, but still unpleasant and cruel. After the chicks are killed, they are often fed to birds of prey, snakes, or sold within the zoo trade in order to help feed other animals. The countries enacting chick cull bans Some countries have already started to ban the killing of male chicks (also known as culling). For example, France vouched to do this by the end of 2021, with Germany following suit in 2022. These countries, along with some others, have already started to see sales of ‘no-cull’ eggs in their supermarkets. Most recently, Italy have announced that they will be banning all culling by the end of 2026. This was officially passed on 3rd August 2022 by the Italian Chamber Deputies after 2 years of hard work and campaigning by the charity Animal Equality. The vote was passed by an absolute majority, with 346 voting in favour, 10 voting against and 19 abstentions. Although we are seeing some European countries take a stand and move towards the banning of chick culling, unfortunately not all countries are on board. Last year, UK supermarkets were reported to be trying to block the ban of culling out of fear that consumers will become aware of the cruel goings-on within the egg industry. They said that by selling ‘no-cull’ eggs, this will draw the consumers attention to culling and educate them around what this is; believing that it is better for people to not know the extent of the cruelty and the killing that happens behind the scenes. "The response [from UK supermarkets] is that the customer will realise all the other eggs are ‘with chick culling’, and they wouldn’t have known that before" - Carmen Uphoff, CEO of Respeggt However, that will not stop Animal Equality from campaigning and sending around their petitions in the hope to change this outlook. Since 2010 Animal Equality have investigated nine hatcheries in Italy, Mexico, USA and Spain, where they documented the killing of male chicks. In 2020 the charity launched a petition in Italy to propose a ban on chick culling which gained over 100,000 signatures and allowed the petition to be looked at by the Italian government. It was then decided to put the initiative in place and come up with a timescale to make the ban happen. We can only hope to see more countries taking part in these bans, to save the lives of millions of baby chicks each year. Animal Equality's petitions can be found here. Did you know? Italy's ban will save between 25 and 40 million male chicks from being culled annually. - Animal Equality Similar articles: How 'Ag-gag' Laws are Hiding Animal Mistreatment Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • The Record Profits: Paid by the People

    Alexandra Kenney explains some of the reasons for record profits and proposes how we could shake our dependence on costly energy sources Photo by Teddy At a time when oil companies are hitting record-level profits and everyday people are suffering under a cost of living crisis with skyrocketing energy bills, it’s important to understand how we got here. We need to examine the reason gas and oil prices are so volatile, and the reasons the energy crisis is hitting the UK worse than the rest of Europe. Untangling the complexities of these issues and their interconnectedness can be challenging but necessary to understanding where we might go from here. Record oil profits According to recent reports, the oil industry doubled its profits to $219 billion in 2022, ‘smashing previous records in a year of volatile energy prices’. In addition, the 'top Western oil companies paid out a record $110 billion in dividends and share repurchases to investors in 2022,' which has led to renewed pressure on governments to institute windfall taxes across the oil industry. In 2022, companies such as Total and ExxonMobil saw massive profits; Centrica, the UK’s largest energy supplier, tripled its profits to £3.3bn; Shell made $39.9bn (£32.2bn), the highest in its 115-year history; Saudi Aramco profited $42.4bn over a three-month period; and BP hit $27.7bn (£23bn), up from $12.8bn in 2021. These massive profits are directly tied to higher commodity prices of oil and gas sold on the global market. Falling UK imports from Russia Whilst the UK's dependence on Russian energy imports is lower than other European countries, the country is still at risk of disruption in global energy markets due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In 2021, only 4% of its gas, 9% of its oil, and 27% of its coal were imported from Russia. This fell to £2.2 billion in 2022 and £1.3 billion in the year to January 2023. However, the prices of gas, oil, and energy bills in the UK have still gone up. Although oil companies have some control over oil supply as they control its exploration, drilling and extraction, the global oil market is highly competitive. Prices are ultimately determined by the complex interplay of factors such as global economic conditions, geopolitical tensions and changes in production levels. According to API, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a significant impact on the global oil market, There was global concern that significant volumes of Russian oil and gas could be affected by physical disruptions, sanctions prohibiting exports, or Russia threatening to withhold it from the global market. These fears over a reduced supply increased global market prices. The retail price of gas people pay at the pumps includes additional taxes mandated by national and local governments, and refining and distribution costs, all of which become more expensive to import as gas is the main fuel used for transporting the product globally. As an economy grows, the demand for oil increases. When there is uncertainty around the economy or market fears amongst investors, demand for oil decreases. Furthermore, due to the length of time it takes between resource discovery and acquisitions, there is a cautious approach to investment and capital funding, creating a more limited oil supply. Events like the Russian invasion of Ukraine created ripple reactions across global markets, decreasing the global supply of oil available on the market, and causing price volatility. How we are paying for oil and gas company profits With oil and gas prices rising since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, energy companies have profited significantly. For instance, BP used its profits to buy back 'an additional £2.5bn of its shares to increase its own company's stock prices and increase shareholder's profits.' However, these profits have exacerbated costs, contributing to inflation that has hit consumers the most, with the rate reaching 10.1% in September. The surging oil and gas prices have also directly increased the cost of household energy bills, thereby contributing to the cost of living crisis. Furthermore, everyday items, goods, and services have also become more expensive due to rising oil/gas prices, which are integral to the global supply chain and are necessary for transportation. World leaders such as US President Joe Biden have threatened energy companies with higher taxes to increase production, which would help lower the cost of oil and gas under the supply and demand scales. Many European governments have tried to institute windfall taxes on oil and gas company profits to offset the cost of ever-increasing energy bills. Companies like Shell, BP, and Centrica have announced taxes paid, but some have managed to pay little to nothing in windfall taxes in the UK by accounting for financial losses or spending money on environmentally geared actions such as shutting down North Sea oil rigs. After factoring in the money received back from the UK government every year from 2015 to 2020, Shell and BP ended up paying a negative amount of tax, amounting to -£685m for Shell and -£107m for BP. "[BP profits are] damning evidence of the failure of the government to levy a proper windfall tax" - Ed Miliband MP, Shadow Climate Change Secretary Why the UK faces higher costs than Europe The UK faces 30% higher electricity prices than other European countries. But why are their energy bills so much higher? For one, the UK depends heavily on natural gas for electricity and heating, generating 44% of its electricity from gas-fired power stations, compared to the EU's reliance on gas for only 22% of its electricity with nuclear and renewables comprising the rest. Additionally, a majority of the UK's housing stock, built before 1980, is poorly insulated and energy-hungry, making energy consumption and bills higher. The UK's much smaller gas storage capacity than Europe’s, up to five days compared to up to 90 days in Germany, leaves the UK more dependent on purchasing gas in short-term markets, resulting in price fluctuations. Finally, even low-cost renewable energy is sold at the same price as expensive gas-powered electricity, as UK electricity prices are determined by the cost of the last unit of energy acquired to meet the country’s electricity demand and balance the grid. This means that the cost of electricity in the UK is closely linked to volatile market prices for gas. Policy changes and market reform are required to lower electricity costs in the long term, according to Professor Paul de Leeuw, director of the energy transition at Robert Gordon University. Reform calls involve capping household gas and electricity costs, introducing additional windfall taxes, and decoupling electricity prices from gas prices, enabling the UK to price electricity costs closer to the cost of electricity generation, lowering utility bills. The Energy Prices Bill, a landmark bill aimed at addressing energy costs, includes a 'Cost-Plus-Revenue Limit' designed to ensure households do not pay more for electricity from renewable and nuclear energy, thus preventing high gas prices from setting the cost of electricity for cheaper energy sources. The efficacy of these bills in reducing household energy costs remains to be seen. Did you know? Shell reported profits of $39.9bn (£32.2bn) in 2022, the highest in its 115-year history - BBC Concluding thoughts The significance of understanding global market prices for gas and oil and why they are so volatile is that it can better empower people to effectively push for protective legislative policies from their governments. This in turn can reduce the impact of the cost of living crisis so many people are facing across the UK. By understanding what is causing the fluctuations in market prices, we can better address disruptions and points of weaknesses in the supply chain. Thus, it is important to understand the interconnectedness of these issues to find sustainable solutions that reduce the impact of global price fluctuations. A call to action is needed for individuals and governments to work towards sustainable energy solutions to offset the dependence on volatile oil markets. The article notes that the recent price rises have led to renewed pressure on governments to institute windfall taxes across the oil industry. However, these windfall taxes have been shown to be largely ineffectual as companies find ways to avoid paying a large portion of them. Provided changes were made to prevent companies from skirting the windfall taxes, such measures could be used to fund sustainable energy initiatives. Meanwhile governments should invest in sustainable energy solutions such as wind and solar power to promote a cleaner, greener future. Similar articles: The Countries Leaving the Controversial Energy Charter Treaty Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Edited by Vanessa Clark / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • Wildcats In England: A Possible Return

    Vanessa Clark investigates the impact and possibilities of one of England's new rewilding projects Photo by Jasper Garratt What is a wildcat? A common response when considering the wildcat is what kind of cat it is. According to The Wildlife Trust, the wildcat, or ‘tiger of the Highlands’, is like a domestic tabby cat and is largely nocturnal and characteristically shy. These wild cats are one of the rarest and most endangered mammals in the UK, as the only wild member of the cat family in the UK. Since the end of 2022, wildcats are making headlines with various rewilding schemes discussing their reintroduction to the country and how feasible those endeavours might be. Wildcats enjoy edges of moors and peaks of hills, far away from populations. The Mammal Society explains that wildcats carry out most of their lives at dawn and dusk, preferring solitude with only one cat per 3km² in optimal areas and one per 10km² in less favourable areas. "The wildcat has left an indelible pawprint on Scotland, where its untameable, fearless spirit and love of solitude have given it a mythical reputation in folklore and history" - Rewilding Britain Hopes for Devon to become first wildcat home The Devon Wildlife Trust has initiated a project to determine whether this shy cat could be reintegrated in the South West, once hunted to extinction for its fur and to protect rabbits and chickens. Since hunting laws are not a current threat, the main threat is hybridisation with the domestic cat. In February this year, TimeOut announced the repopulation of wildcats and similar projects for bison in Kent, with plans for rewilding in London. The narrative is transforming into how we can improve relationships with our environments. Rewilding Coomestead, a Devon based former farm, is thinking about nature as experience, inviting guests to holiday on the land previously used to farm livestock, which is now in a process of letting nature reclaim its habitat. Rather than being a human-led environment, the former farm is interested in understanding the process of nature, flood management and courses in rewilding for beginners and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Rewilding in cities Rewilding projects are diversifying themselves and efforts to repopulate nature in built-up cities offer hope to those whose lives are bound to concreted, urban areas. Repopulation projects hope to reverse the fragility of species and cultivate biodiversity across the UK. UK-based charity Rewilding Britain aims to holistically help nature recover and flourish itself, providing a 12-step program for anyone interested in taking part. The first step in the program is a ‘do nothing’ approach, observing and allowing nature to unfurl. Did you know? You can tell a wildcat apart from a domestic by its cylindrical, bushy tail with a blunt black tip - The Mammal Society Realistic hopes for rewilding We live in an ecosystem with interdependent components; cities have long relied on green spaces to improve the health of the population and counter climate change. Rather than blocking off the eaves of roofs, they can serve as homes for starlings and owls. If wildcats find a home again in wider England, it will likely turn more of our attention to matters of the environment, both rural and urban. Rewilding is an opportunity to look outside of ourselves more, to pay attention to and act upon the needs of our fragile yet majestic world. Similar articles: Rewilding Could Help the UK Fight the Climate Crisis Researched by Adrian Windeler / Edited by Mia-Helena Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • The Countries Leaving the Controversial Energy Charter Treaty

    Mary Jane Amato tracks the history of the 1998 Energy Charter Treaty and many European countries' decision to withdrawal Photo by Julius Drost In 2020 the European Commission declared its intention to withdraw from the infamous Energy Charter Treaty. This treaty was designed almost 30 years ago with the clear intention to protect companies investing in the energy sector by allowing them to sue governments on policies that could potentially put their investments at risk. A few years before, in 2017, and in the years to follow, modernization attempts were made to bring the treaty in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement. These attempts were supposed to be voted upon in November 2022, after an agreement in principle was reached in June of the same year. However, this did not happen, and a new date has been set in April 2023 for this vote to take place, but it seems the consensus of most of the EU and EURATOM countries who co-signed the treaty is to completely withdraw. A brief history of the treaty The Energy Charter Treaty was co-signed by 54 European states (53 since Italy left in 2016) in 1994, coming into effect in 1998. This treaty, which initially was meant to facilitate the creation of advantageous cooperation in the post-cold war energy market, is a global accord that creates a multilateral framework for international collaboration, particularly in the fossil fuel sector. The agreement covers all facets of commercial energy activity, while also outlining processes for resolving disputes between states and other states, and also between states and foreign investors. Within the agreement is also established an extremely long sunset clause, which subjects the states to a litigation period of 20 years after withdrawal. In other words, the Energy Charter Treaty is a pact that protects fossil fuel investors from being sued by the countries they have invested in. Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is provided to these companies; this means that if governments decide to move in a way that could jeopardise their profit, said companies can sue them in corporate courts that will, by rule of thumb, protect them. In a time where climate action has become prevalent, such a set-up is a serious threat to any progress in this direction. '[The ECT] no longer serves the interest of the European Union, especially with regard to the objective to become climate neutral by 2050' - European Parliament Resolution, 24 November 2022 Italy and Slovenia: Sued for millions for protecting their land The power of the ISDS can be attested in the analysis of two separate cases where two countries, Italy and Slovenia, have acted against two major fossil fuel tycoons. In the first case, the Slovenian government was sued for €120 million, in 2020 by the UK energy company Ascent Resources for demanding an environmental impact study of a planned fracking project. There was a real concern about how the fracking would affect the water sources in the area, and the government wanted a more thorough investigation before allowing the company to proceed. This led the country to back down and pass a new law which allowed limited fracking on the land. In Italy's scenario, a ban on oil and gas development within 12 miles of the Italian coastline was successfully reintroduced by the Italian Parliament in 2015. This triggered a claim for compensation in 2017 by the UK company Rockhopper Exploration Plc, claiming that the Energy Charter Treaty's rules on investor protection had been broken. The corporation sued the Italian government and won the arbitration, obtaining £190 million even though Italy had previously exited the ECT in 2016. This controversial decision was possible due to the sunset clause which protected not only the investments Rockhopper had made in Italy, but also the loss of its future profits. More countries are following Italy's example At this point in time, the European Parliament, with the support of a majority of EU countries, have expressed their will to leave the ECT. After an inconclusive period where the possibility of modernising the treaty was proposed to make it more in line with the Paris agreement, the general consensus is that all countries should exit the ECT. Spain, the Netherlands, Poland, France, Slovenia, Germany, and Luxembourg all declared their intention to exit the Energy Charter Treaty by 2022. On November 24 2022 the European Parliament adopted a resolution urging the European Commission to launch a coordinated withdrawal, since it no longer serves its necessities and is highly incompatible with its policies, especially in light of the EU's goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Despite this, Guy Lentz, head of the ECT secretariat, has written a letter to Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament, warning that abandoning the treaty without modernising it would give fossil fuel industries more power. Did you know? Rockhopper Exploration Plc made £190 million from suing Italy, 6x money than it had invested. - Climate Change Litigation Database Concluding comments What happened to Italy exemplifies the type of risk that this outdated treaty poses to any country trying their best to fight climate change. Rockhopper made six times more money than it had ever invested in the project thanks to the ECT sunset clause, and it is highly likely that it will utilise that money to support further oil exploration. A resolution needs to be found as soon as possible and the voting on the modernisation of the treaty that will take place next April will be defining the next steps in this complex and pernicious matter. Similar articles: European Union Fails to Take Climate Emergency Seriously Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Edited by Jenny Donath / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • LGBTQ+: The 'propaganda' Law in Russia

    Jenny Donath investigates the repercussions of Russia’s new law which further curtails LGBTQ+ expression in a country clamping down on ‘Western values’ Photo by Zoe The Kremlin recently passed a new bill to ban all forms of ‘propaganda’ that expresses support of the LGBT+ community. A history of LGBT legislation in Russia Homophobic agendas have been around for quite some time in Russia. In 2013, the country passed a law that forbid any ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’ among minors. Shortly after, LGBTQ+ activists (who expressed their support to the community) began to be arrested. Since then, matters have deteriorated, with pride events being banned and journalists no longer allowed to publish anything that discusses different sexualities. Law enforcement in Russia records very few violent acts toward LGBTQ+ individuals, completely dismissing people’s right to safety. The new bill is built upon the 2013 law and extends across all age groups, making it effectively impossible for people to support or identify with the community. Russia’s reasoning is the preservation of ‘traditional values’ and a promotion of conservatism. The bill was passed unanimously on its first reading and its view is backed by the Russian Orthodox Church. It includes any form of promotion of sexual orientations different from heterosexuality, be it in advertising, the entertainment sector, online or in a public setting. The Guardian reports that individuals who decide to continue to support or display affiliations with the community could pay fines up to the value of £5400. Organisations associating themselves with the community can face up to 5m roubles (£68,000). Foreigners could even be arrested for 15 days or deported. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) concludes that Russia’s politics against rights of LGBTQ+ people and their activists are discriminatory. In Germany, the ECHR has even filed a lawsuit against violence in Chechnya towards LGBTQ+ people. 'From anti-LGBT+ legislation to Chechen atrocities, the Kremlin uses state-sponsored homophobia as a part of its strategy to maintain power and influence at the expense of its own citizens fundamental rights' - Elene Kurtanidze, Freedom House Furthermore, ILGA Europe (an independent, international, non-governmental organisation that works to protect the equality, freedom, and safety of LGBTQ+ people) released their annual Rainbow Europe Map and Index in May 2022. The map showcases Europe’s countries’ adherence to those principles. Russia’s representation of basic LGBTQ+ rights lie only at 8%, suggesting strong discrimination and violations of human rights. Human rights groups and activists pointed out that Russia’s new law makes it impossible and basically illegal to express support for or identification with the LGBTQ+ community. However, Alexander Khinshtein, one of the lawmakers of the bill, claimed that the new bill was not supposed to be censoring: ‘We are not banning references to LGBT as a phenomenon. We are banning propaganda and the wording is extremely important here.’ The LGBT Network counters that ‘what is happening is the total state abolition of LGBT+’. A representative of the network goes on to say, ‘They want to ban us not only from talking about ourselves or somehow demonstrating our feelings for our partners, but also to completely erase any mention of us in culture: books, films, media and the like.’ The geopolitical context Lawmakers reportedly justified their decision by claiming it would protect against ‘un-Russian’ values. It comes as no surprise that the situation has intensified since Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, a country backed by West and its values - Western countries have become more liberal and accepting of LGBT+ people, continuing to pass new laws to further protect their rights.The Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) wrote an article featuring Igor Kochetkov, co-founder of LGBT Network, who believes that the mere purpose of the 2013 law was to create an ideology to ‘generate hatred [...]’. He said that activists are being prosecuted because they are perceived as ‘hidden enemies’. He also claims that the Kremlin tries to distract from the losses caused by the war in Ukraine. The Western world is accused of attempting to ‘destroy Russia from within’ by ‘promoting homosexuality as an instrument of political influence’. Apparently, Russia uses this as justification for confronting Western countries. He also claims that the Kremlin tries to distract from the losses caused by the war in Ukraine. Did you know? Under the new law, individuals can be fined the equivalent of £5,400 and organisations £68,500 for 'propagandising nontraditional sexual relations' - The Guardian According to Freedom House, it is all part of Russia’s political strategy; the Kremlin tries to gain control by disinforming and manipulating, to repel the public from Western countries. Kochetkov said, ‘This is part of a broader attack on anything the government deems ‘Western’ and progressive’. Putin had recently called Western countries’ promotion of gay and transgender rights as ‘moving towards open satanism’. Gleb Latnik, an LGBTQ+ activist and head of the RUSA LGBT DC immigrant organisation had recently fled Russia in fear of violence. In an interview with CEPA, Latnik’s opinion is that half of Russian LGBTQ+ people are naturally afraid of expressing their true sexuality; he believes that they are terrified of disagreeing with the government. Concluding comments While there appears to be some consensus in Russia in relation to the new legislation, many argue that the legal decision is discriminatory and restricts the human right to freedom of expression. Faced with ever-tightening laws around basic expressions of their identity, the country’s LGBTQ+ community are caught in a maelstrom of political fervour which may not die down for a very long time. Similar articles: Uproar in EU Over Hungary LGBTQ+ Legislation Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Edited by Mia Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • United Nations: Life Expectancy, Education and Income Have Fallen

    Aimee Louise Jones analyses the effects of recent global crises on life expectancies, incomes and social inequalities worldwide Photo by Jonathan Moy de Vitry The United Nations recently released a report which details a drop in life expectancy, education and income over the last two years. It portrays a lack of recovery since the global pandemic and other factors possibly causing this fall in statistics. It is said that decades of progress have been unravelled in just two years, with 9 out of 10 countries slipping backwards on the United Nations Human Development Index. Changes in life expectancy In 2021, global life expectancy dropped to 71 years, down from 72.8 years in 2019, with coronavirus initiating the largest drop in life expectancy since World War Two. A study by the International Journal of Epidemiology examined impacts of COVID-19 on life expectancy for 29 countries, explaining that few people recovered in 2021 while many experienced further declines. There was a slight rise for England and Wales but lowered in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The countries who distributed the COVID-19 vaccinations quickly and to all ages bounced back much faster than those unvaccinated. Only four countries - France, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland - have recovered the same life-expectancy rate that they had prior to the pandemic. Another negative impact on life expectancy is climate change. Climate change affects both the social and environmental determinants of health, such as clean air, sufficient food, clean water and safe, secure shelters. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that between 2030 and 2050 climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths per year because of malnutrition, malaria and other related illnesses. According to the WHO, there are many other climate-sensitive risks: Injury and/or death from extreme weather events Respiratory illnesses Water-borne diseases Mental and psychological health. In turn, the increases in such illnesses are having a negative impact on health sectors. Changes in income According to The World Bank in 2020, it was predicted that COVID-19 would push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty by the following year. During 2020, the world's collective Gross Domestic Product decreased by 3.4%. Inflation is outstripping wage and benefit increases, meaning that people are finding it hard to pay for everyday necessities such as food, gas, electricity, rent and mortgage payments. There has been pressure on cost since mid-2021 when global lockdowns were lifted and most of the world’s advanced economies reopened. The main price increase that many of us are struggling with is the cost of gas. After the pandemic, there was a larger demand for gas in Asia, along with unexpected shortages worldwide. On top of this, the war between Russia and Ukraine has also had an impact on price increases. Russia is one of the biggest suppliers of gas for European countries, though many now refuse to trade with Russia. On the other hand, Ukraine has been a major global supplier of agricultural goods. The disruption to this trade could mean that people will also see an increase in food cost too. "Inflation is outstripping wage and benefit increases, meaning that people are finding it hard to pay for everyday necessities" Changes in education Due to global lockdowns throughout 2020, education was disrupted. The first set of test results after the pandemic looked specifically at seven and eight-year-olds in England. Students tested much lower than those in previous years when it came to reading, mathematics and writing, scoring 11% lower overall than those examined prior. The United Nations Human Development Index looked at the difference between one of the top-rated countries in the world and one of the lowest-rated countries, in terms of education. In 2022, the statistics show that the Swiss population attend on average 16.5 years of education in their lifetime. In comparison, the people of South Sudan only have access to an average of 5.5 years of education in their lifetime. Did you know? In 2021, global life expectancy fell to 71 years, from 72.8 years in 2019. - United Nations Concluding comments These facts and statistics lay bare the impacts of the pandemic on people across the globe and show us how other pressures affected these statistical changes. COVID-19, climate change, and the war in Ukraine have contributed to the unwanted losses of recent years. Though the losses in life expectancy, income and education may appear out of our control, they are simultaneously affected by presenting environmental dynamics, and we are a part of those dynamics. Similar articles: Toxic Air Pollution: The Other Pandemic Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Edited by Mia Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • An Understanding of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

    Mary Jane Amato breaks down the behaviours associated with OCD, how sufferers can harness these traits to their advantage, and the support that is available. Photo by Rumman Amin There are many misconceptions and cliches that still surround obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Many continue to associate this condition only with fixation on order and/or cleanliness. In actuality, OCD is a highly complex and often debilitating disorder. However, with the correct understanding and attention, OCD can be handled and, in certain cases, almost completely subdued. OCD: A brief history and description of the disorder OCD is a chronic mental health disorder that implicates obsessions and compulsions, often simultaneous and present in all forms of OCD. Compulsions are repeated physical or mental behaviours carried out to alleviate distress and anxiety, whereas obsessions are unwanted and intrusive thoughts, feelings, urges and doubts. The World Health Organization states that OCD is among the top ten most disabling illnesses. People affected by this condition typically experience persistent and unwelcome thoughts, known as ‘intrusive thoughts’, which cause unwanted feelings and trigger specific compulsive and ritualistic behaviours that often fall within the following behavioural categories: Organisation, Symmetry and Order Contamination Checking Rumination Hoarding 1. Organisation, Symmetry and Order This behavioural category for OCD is most common and refers to obsessions with objects being in exact locations, symmetrical or ordered in very specific manners. Someone affected by this form of OCD often feels heavy pressure to maintain said order. Disorganisation can cause great discomfort or pain, leading some to believe disorganisation will hurt them or their loved ones indirectly if compulsions and order are unfulfilled. 2. Contamination Ritualised washing and cleaning are also widely acknowledged OCD symptoms, being compulsive actions of purification. Sufferers may be worried about physically harming or contaminating others, or may feel uneasy or contaminated by substances. Sufferers may be concerned about contracting or spreading diseases or ailments from contamination. In these cases, ritual washing will be carried out as prevention. Perceived contamination can also be mental, with less clearly defined obsessions; cleaning compulsively to alleviate the discomfort of feeling soiled or unclean. In this case, human interaction (rather than an external contaminant like blood or dirt) is the source of the discomfort. Degradation, humiliation, severe criticism and betrayal are examples of emotional violations that can lead to mental contamination. 3. Checking Checking compulsions are intentional and performed repeatedly to lessen the anxiety created by the certain thoughts and beliefs, though often resulting in the opposite effect. Some checking rituals include repeatedly checking to see if windows and doors are locked, ensuring all appliances are turned off or repeatedly scanning the road for accidents. Other manifestations of checking behaviour are even more subtle and mentally draining. Some re-read or re-write words, sentences or entire paragraphs repeatedly. Some think the same thought while completing a different action, such as looking at oneself in the mirror or exiting a door until the feeling is “just right” – or turning light switches on and off, continually. 4. Rumination Rumination is a compulsion based in the mind, generally understood as compulsive and repetitive thinking about a particular matter to the extent that suffers may loop and spend excessive amounts of time engaged with such thoughts without demonstrating any visible external behaviours. Rumination may occur as an attempt to relieve anxiety or uncertainty, or to find answers to evasive questions – to explain something. However, sufferers often find themselves exhausted after the behaviour is habituated and control is lost. 5. Hoarding The hoarding behavioural category covers the struggle to dispose of belongings. Sufferers accumulate things continually across time, storing them (typically in an unkempt manner) leading to clutter or unhealthy or dangerous environments. Although some people gather and store a lot of expensive artefacts, the goods are almost invariably of little or no monetary value. Sufferers typically feel an emotional connection to each object, attributing sentimental value to them, experiencing extreme anxiety about being separated from them. The impacts of compulsion OCD compulsions usually follow patterns that tend to be repeated precisely and consistently. Such rituals can impact lives in ways that can become extremely impairing. Compulsions are physical and mental, consuming a lot of time and affecting social lives. Knowing you might be performing rituals that could be perceived as highly unusual may prevent you from attending social scenarios to avoid judgement or anxiety. Did you know? It takes the average OCD sufferer over seven years to reach a diagnosis. - Made of Millions.com Relationships Relationships for people affected by OCD can become very challenging. OCD sufferers may often feel anxious or insecure, requiring frequent assurance in relationships. Compulsion in relationships can be challenging, demanding, exhausting and require patience. Taking care of duties that OCD sufferers are unable to may also be difficult for some families or partners. It takes resilience and understanding to support a loved one as an ally, rather than an enabler. Many engage in the therapeutic process as a family, to understand what they are going through and to receive the appropriate support. The other side of OCD Though OCD can cause much hardship, especially on the more severe end of the spectrum, it is important to remember, during the initial phases of recognising symptoms and the subsequent assessments, that looking solely from a medical perspective gives us only half of the picture. From a more holistic standpoint, traits that fall under the OCD bracket, though sometimes impairing in everyday life, are also well-defined characteristics that accompany the artistic and creative minds. In the words of Rose Cartwright, an OCD advocate and member of the Made of Millions team: “Many experts have observed that people with OCD often possess a range of positive character traits, such as inquisitiveness, creativity, and empathy. I like that idea: the brain which gives you misery is the same brain which can give you great joy”. Attention to detail, creativity and a great deal of resilience, related to a single task, are traits that can be harnessed. Well-known individuals affected by OCD include David Beckham, Jessica Alba and Daniel Radcliffe. Sufferers are found in creative industries, using hyperattention to their advantage. Support and treatment Those recognising compulsive behaviours affecting their lives often consult a healthcare professional to be referred for diagnosis. The most common treatment is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), involving the alteration of thought processes and behavioural patterns. Another type of therapy is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), pushing clients to confront obsessions whilst resisting the urge of acting on compulsions. In more persistent cases, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are prescribed. Acting on chemicals of the brain, SSRIs have proven effective in cases of OCD-induced depression. Concluding comments Complex conditions like OCD can be scary, strenuous and isolating, but we are experiencing a shift toward further understanding of and lesser stigma around the mental health. Overcoming fear of judgement and actively seeking help are steps toward a more sustainable and richer quality of life. Useful links: Mental health support charities: Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, OCD UK. Diagnosis support: NHS, Awakn Clinics. Psychological support: Better Help, List of CBT Therapists. Similar articles: Understanding of Borderline Personality Disorder Researched by Alexandra Kenny / Edited by Mia Caisley / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • Key Workers: Strikes over Pay and Conditions

    In the wake of the most significant period of industrial action in the UK for decades, Jonny Rogers explores the causes of the discontent and likely outcomes of the strikes. Photo by Cedric Fauntleroy The end of 2022 saw countless workers across Britain – including nurses, ambulance drivers, rail workers, teachers, university staff and civil servants – declaring strike action in demand of better pay and improved working conditions. In November, the United Kingdom experienced the highest total number of working days lost to labour disputes for over a decade. With many strikes extending into the new year, joined by an expanding range of workers, there is no apparent end in sight for Britain’s new ‘winter of discontent’. The Cost of Living Crisis While the demands vary between sectors, these strikes have been primarily catalysed by the cost of living crisis, and the failure of employers to offer wages that reflect the current economy. Inflation reached a 41-year high in October with an 11.1% rise over 12 months, rendering household goods, fuel and education increasingly unaffordable for the UK population. The Confederation of Business Industry predicts that Britain’s economy will shrink 0.4% in 2023. One key factor in the present economic crisis is rising energy prices. While global energy demand dropped during 2020's national lockdowns, oil and gas usage has increased as many have returned to work and facilities have reopened. It is believed that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the imports of Russian oil being restricted or banned to curtail the nation’s revenues and impede its war efforts, has had an impact on driving up the cost of fuel in Britain. However, the UK imports only a fraction of its oil from Russia, leaving people wondering if the increases are legitimate, directly relatable or just a result of big companies profiteering. “Like so many workers, our members are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. They are desperate. They are being told there is no money for them, while they watch ministers giving out government contracts worth billions of pounds to their mates” – Mark Serwotka, Public and Commercial Services Union Research from the Sutton Trust found that more than 60% of UK students in are spending less money on food and essentials, with nearly a quarter claiming that the crisis has decreased the likelihood of completing their degrees. A report published by the Child of the North all-party parliamentary group revealed that children in the North of the UK are most affected by the economic crisis, with over a third living in poverty during the pandemic. With the National Education Union (NEU) recently voting in favour of strike action in England and Wales, further concerns are raised for the wellbeing and development of British youth – having already been impeded by the pandemic – many of whom are presently preparing for important examinations. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the NEU, acknowledged the potential cost of strikes on younger generations, but argued that discussions about pay, workload and teaching conditions are long overdue: "It's not something we want to do at all, but ministers have to now engage seriously and have to begin negotiating." Industrial action and the future of Britain A new YouGov poll has shown that public support for strikes vary between jobs, with nurses and ambulance staff receiving approval from over 63% of the population, while over 48% oppose the strikes of rail workers, university staff and driving examiners. Over half of all Britons blame the government for the strikes of nurses and ambulance staff, while trade unions are blamed for rail strikes by 32% of the population. Several disputes have been resolved in the past few months: criminal barristers have agreed to a 15% fee rise, BT workers have accepted a 6 to 16% rise, and two NHS Scotland unions have settled for a 7.5% rise. Sharon Graham, general secretary for trade union Unite, congratulated the NHS workers for their resolve and commitment: “Unite makes no apologies for fighting for better jobs, pay and conditions in the health service because NHS Scotland workers should be fairly rewarded for the outstanding work that they do day in and day out.” Nevertheless, union negotiations in the public sector have generally seen little progress, with the Conservative government arguing that pay rises would only reinforce and exacerbate inflation. Perhaps this is symptomatic of the disparity between pay in the public and private sectors: the Office for National Statistics found that wages in the private sector grew by 7.2% between September and November, compared to only 3.3% in the public sector. Did you know? Between June and October 2022, more than 1.1 million working days were lost due to strike action, the highest in a five-month period since 1990. - Reuters Standing their ground in rejecting the pay demands, the government are instead planning to introduce new legislation that aims to limit how many workers can abandon their duties during a strike. Accordingly, employers would be given the legal authorisation to fire employees who ignore a ‘work notice’ that stipulates their continued labour during industrial action. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak argued that this measure is necessary to sustain a minimum service for critical sectors such as emergency care and public transport, though the bill has received widespread criticism from both trade unions and other politicians. Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, believes that it would only “prolong disputes and poison industrial relations”, thereby leading to more frequent strikes in the future. Sir Keir Starmer has pledged to repeal the legislation if it were to become law. Concluding thoughts Some commentators are drawing comparisons between the current situation and the 'Winter of Discontent’ of 1978-79. Like today, Britain was experiencing high levels of inflation in the mid-1970s, provoked by an energy supply crisis. After a strike by Ford workers was settled with a pay increase of 16.5%, significantly exceeding the 5% limit set by the government to control inflation, other industries joined in taking industrial action. In this period, 4.6 million workers in Britain – including those in the automobile, rail, haulage, fuel, nursing and refuse collection industries – went on strike. With disruptions to healthcare services, petrol stations closing and litter collecting in the street, the resulting chaos yielded public resentment for the Labour government and energised Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power, who then implemented measures to control union activity. While the situation has been reversed, with the Conservative government now failing to settle trade disputes, recent history has shown that mass strikes might serve as a prelude to wider political change. As University of Kent Professor Matthew Goodwin notes, “History is a really big warning sign for Sunak and company […] It was the industrial chaos of the late ’70s that paved the way for a decade of Thatcher. This is compounding a sense in the country that nobody is really in control.” Similar: The Cost of Living Crisis in the UK Researched by Alexandra Kenney / Edited by Ellis Jackson / Online Editor: Harry Hetherington A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • Switzerland Holds Vote to End Factory Farming 

    Jenny Donath explores the ethical debate over factory farming in Switzerland and Swiss voters' decision to reject the motion to end it. Photo by Edmond Dantès On 25th September 2022, polls opened on whether intensive factory farming should be banned forever in Switzerland. The proposal suggested that farmers would have to cut down their livestock size significantly and adjust their farming practices within the next 25 years. Reasons for the referendum include the growing movement for animal rights across Europe, with calls to reduce meat consumption and improve livestock conditions. In 2019, a coalition of various institutions like Greenpeace, Vier Pfoten, and NGO collected over 106,000 signatures to put forward their proposal to eliminateintensive farming. Switzerland has historically been forward-thinking and strict when it comes to animal welfare. In 1893, it had become prohibited to slaughter animals without first putting them under anaesthetics. As part of the Animal Welfare Act, it had prohibited any infliction of pain on animals without justification in 1978. Various other animal protections have been passed in recent decades, protecting animals by law. What is the Swiss Animal Welfare Act? The new amendment would have become part of the Swiss Animal Welfare Act. The act already states that no-one may subject on animals “pain, suffering, harm or fear, or otherwise violate its dignity”. A few vertebrates, however, are not included in the act. The Swiss Animal Protection Ordinance also lists requirements for housing animals appropriately. Switzerland’s new proposal would mean more necessary steps toward a complete elimination of intensive farming. The proposal includes various things that need to be changed within the next 25 years. Farmers shall ensure that livestock get access to outdoor spaces, that their housing aligns with the necessities for each species, and that the transport of animals all the way up to slaughter is humane. Is new legislation necessary? However, Swiss farms already seem relatively small with a limit of 300 veal calves, 1,500 pigs, or 27,000 broiler chickens per farm. For instance, comparing the average Swiss dairy farm of 24 cows with 250 cows in Germany, the number of animals held on one farm does not necessarily mean an issue in Switzerland. Only an estimated 6.6% of all Swiss farms would need to expand their animal houses and reduce their animal herds. This would mean an increase of consumer prices. Martin Haab, dairy farmer and president of the Zurich Farmers’ Union, said: “We already produce on a high level, and they want to put another load of laws on our shoulders. But consumers are not ready to pay a lot more for their food.” (Martin Haab, Time) Despite this, animal rights supporters ask for more. Martina Munz, legislator of the Social Democratic party, said: “It’s true that we don’t have a lot of big farms in Switzerland, but we have a lot of things we can do better when it comes to animal welfare. […] it’s also about how they’re kept, it’s about slaughtering and transportation.” The previous laws don’t mean that those animals are receiving the standards they need. “Pigs are kept in barns too, up to 1,500 per farm, with 10 pigs sharing the space of an average parking spot. It is not possible to treat animals in a dignified way in those conditions,” said Silvano Lieger, who is the managing director of Sentience Politics, an animal protection group. “You can keep 27,000 chickens in one barn and their room to move is about the size of an A4 sheet of paper.” The new amendment would mean that organic standards will be met. The result However, after polls closed on 25th September, it was clear that Swiss citizens did not want more rules to improve animal welfare on farms. 63% rejected the ban on intensive farming. Only the state of Basel approved the proposal with 55% of voters saying “yes”. All other 25 areas turned it down. Several opponents, such as director Martin Rufer of the Swiss Farmer’s Federation, argued that the result showed that the Swiss population are confident in their farming systems and rejected the risk of higher prices for buyers and competition issues for farmers. Supporters of the campaign, like director Philip Ryf, expressed their disappointment. The ban on intensive farming was not only supposed to bring better welfare to animals, but also tackle climate change by reducing meat consumption and shifting land use toward vegetable crops instead of feed for animals. After all, 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to animal husbandry. Similar: Factory Farming is Risking Future Pandemics We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Companies in UK Switching to Four-Day Work Week

    Aleksandra Bienkowska reports on why the switch to a four day week is being described as a transformative change. Photo by Vahid Moeini Jazani One hundred UK companies have changed the five-day working system to a four-day week, encouraged by the 4 Day Week Campaign. The Campaign argues for a four-day, 32-hour work week without reducing any pay. It is supposed to benefit everyone, starting with workers, employers, the economy, society, and the environment. A Transformative Change According to 4 Day Week Campaign, a reduced week would help workers towards a more improved work-life balance, better wellbeing, and help towards the cost of living. Whilst employers could benefit from higher performance and profit, and greater talent for longer due to having less stressed and happier employees. There's other potential benefits too with lower unemployment, increased productivity, and a boost in localised tourism, being beneficial for the economy, whilst a reduction in workers commuting could reduce our carbon footprint and make a positive impact on the environment. The Largest Trial for a Four-day Week The initiative was launched as a large trial to prove the truth of their concept, from June to December 2022, with more than 70 UK companies and organisations trialling the shorter working week, without any changes in pay. Over 3300 employees were offered 100% pay for the 80% of work time, in exchange of maintaining 100% of work but within fewer hours. The results are already visible. The two notable companies in the UK that have signed up to the new working idea are Atom Bank and the marketing company Awin, which currently has 450 members of staff in the UK. Adam Ross, Awin’s chief executive, made a statement to The Guardian that switching to the four-day working week was: “[O]ne of the most transformative initiatives we’ve seen in the history of the company. Over the course of the last year and a half, we have not only seen a tremendous increase in employee wellness and wellbeing but concurrently, our customer service and relations, as well as talent relations and retention also have benefited” (Adam Ross, Awin) A Hangover from an Old Economic Age? Supporters of the initiative say that a five-day working week pattern is just “a hangover from an old economic age” and that it's no longer necessary. Proponents of the four-day week state that reducing workdays to four per week would change and improve many factors in the UK’s economy, environment, and society. It would also help people working at the companies and supplying work. They argue that working more hours does not make people more productive, and it is making people more stressed and burnt out. If the four-day week improves employees' mental and physical health, it would also benefit the employers by having more productive and high-quality workers. Switching the working system from five to four days a week can bring a big change, as it happened almost a century ago when the decision of the 48-hour weekend was made. The USA officially adopted the five-day system in 1932, in a bid to counter the unemployment caused by the Great Depression. Due to mostly religious reasons, Sunday has been a day off for everyone to rest and to pursue the spiritual matters. Henry Ford, a founder of Ford Motor Company, made Saturday and Sunday off for his staff in 1926 and he also set down a 40-hour working week. Did you know? The UK works longer hours than almost any country in Europe – 4dayweek. The Result In conclusion, the idea may have its opponents and proponents. However, most people taking part in the trial consider it a good change. Indeed, when asked in the middle of the trial, 88% of companies said that it was going well, and around 95% of companies said that the employees’ productivity had either increased or stayed on the same level. The push for a four-day work week is certainly strong among the UK public. Similar: Iceland: Trialling a Shorter Working Week A not-for-profit company, advocating for those topics that matter. Join us today.

  • Majority of Military in US want Plant-Based Meals 

    Aimee Louise Jones reports on how more US military personnel are seeking plant based options in a diet dictated by meat. Photo by David Vazquez In general, veganism and vegetarianism have grown significantly in the last couple of years. In 2021, The Vegan Society registered an impressive 16,439 products with the Vegan Trademark. They explained that 82% of their product registrations have taken place in the last five years, showing rapid growth in plant-based products. However, despite an overall increase in people opting for plant-based foods, those who serve in the United States Armed Forces (USAF) are not given the option. Requests from Military Members A recent survey of 226 members of the USAF, led by animal-rights group Mercy for Animals (MFA), found that 81% of USAF members are wanting vegan-based meals, therefore it is quite surprising to find that 83% of the ready-to-eat meals offered to soldiers are meat-based, with the remaining 17% being suitable for vegetarians but not for vegans. The survey results captured the following: 118 respondents agreed that plant-based foods are healthier than animal-based foods. 115 agreed that plant-based foods offered more energy to the soldiers than animal-based foods. 141 agreed that plant-based foods are more sustainable. 182 stated that they think that the Military should be offering more plant-based options. While the US military will accommodate for halal and vegetarian troops, there are no military Ready-to-Eat meals (MREs) that are completely plant-based, yet MREs are heavily relied on for all main meals throughout the day. Vegan troops are left relying on snacks to keep their hunger at bay and their energy up. The vegetarian options are also vastly outnumbered by meat-based options: of the 24 meal options available, 4 of them were suitable for vegetarians. Also, 63% of service people said that they would choose plant-based MREs if given the option. On top of requesting more plant-based foods, soldiers have also requested vegan-friendly uniforms to align with their dietary requirements and ethical perspectives. For example, offering an alternative to the leather boots that they are currently required to wear. Benefits of Plant-Based Foods Oxford Martin School researchers found that a global shift to plant-based diets could save up to 8-million lives by the year 2050, as well as cutting greenhouse gases by two-thirds and save $1.5 trillion in healthcare-related costs. The British Nutrition Foundation’s research on plant-based food has found that people who commit to a full, plant-based diet or a reduced meat diet are less likely to be at risk of heart disease, strokes and type 2 diabetes by lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol and helping to maintain a healthy weight. Furthermore, Nature Reviews Endocrinology published a report on trends, risk factors and policy implications in relation to global obesity. A link between increased consumption of animal products, refined grains and sugar was established, as factors influencing worldwide obesity increase - with our diets among the top global risk factors for illness and early death. The summary Following on from the US military survey, a detailed report is due to be completed by September of 2023 to steer forward provisions for plant-based eaters. Mercy for Animals are working very closely with the US military to facilitate the provision of plant-based meals for service people. Meeting the dietary preferences, needs and requirements of all walks of life is essential to nurture the health of individuals and the environment alike. Gaining insights into levels of accommodation for plant-based eaters in perhaps lesser-considered spheres and learning of dedicated initiatives and action in implementation to cater for said needs is assuring. Similar: Go Vegan To Reverse Climate Change, Says UN We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Cancer: The Experiment that Cured its Patients 

    Aimee Jones reports on a recent monumental and encouraging breakthrough in cancer treatment. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez Over the last 40-years, the survival rate for cancer has doubled. Now, whilst this is great progress, we still have a long way to go in terms of finding a cure, or a more effective, less damaging form of treatment. The Fight Against Cancer Cancer still claims the lives of millions of people each year, with approximately ten million people losing their life to cancer in 2020 alone. Some of the most common forms of cancer are, breast, lung, colon, rectum, and prostate cancers. In 2020, for example, rectal cancer took the lives of approximately 339,022 people across the world. The estimated 5-year survival rate is 67%, or, if diagnosed when in the localised stage, 90%. The Effects of Dostarlimab A recent study, conducted by American scientists, took a group of twelve rectal cancer patients to undergo experimental treatment. The twelve participants of the clinical trial all had advanced localised rectal cancer, with tumours that had a genetic mutation known as ‘Mismatch Repair Deficiency (MMRD)’. These types of tumours often do not respond well to typical cancer treatments such as chemoradiotherapy and tend to lead to surgical removal. The clinical trial spanned across a minimum of twelve months; six months of treatment and at least six months of follow-ups to monitor the results and side effects. Once every three weeks, the twelve patients were each given the experimental drug, Dostarlimab. Dostarlimab is not a new drug in the cancer world, however it is typically used to treat endometrial (womb) cancer. As an immunotherapy drug, the drug unmasks cancerous cells, making them known to the body’s natural immune system and giving the individual a chance to fight the disease for themselves. Dostarlimab works by blocking a certain protein within the cancerous cells, this helps the immune system to fight the cancer and slow down the growth of the tumour. A Monumental Turning Point? All twelve patients showed a complete clinical response to the medications, meaning that while the cancer may not be cured in general terms, there was no longer any signs of illness on any physical exams, colposcopies, PET scams or MRI scans. They were all in remission and ‘cancer free’ within sixth months. No other clinical trial in the history of cancer research has ever experienced this. The patients then continued to have regular follow-ups to monitor their progress and it was found that two-years after the experiment, all patients confirmed that neither of them required any chemoradiotherapy or surgery after, or during the trial. There were no significant side effects reported during or after this trial. However, as the sample was so small, there can be no definitive answer the trial goes public. The picture-perfect results would need to be replicated in a larger scale experiment and longer follow-ups would need to be conducted to fully assess the response. Nonetheless, it is fair to say Dostarlimab is a monumental turning point in cancer research, promising a brighter future for cancer patients. Similar: Medical Breakthrough: Confirmation HIV is Curable We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • The Hidden Cost of Cheese

    Jenny Donath looks at the hidden ethical and environmental consequences linked to cheese. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch New investigations have identified a direct link between deforestation in Brazil, and beloved cheese products in UK supermarkets. In recent years, the welfare complaints associated with cattle rearing have been increasingly brought to the public’s attention. The argument by advocates, being against the cycle of artificial insemination, constant pregnancy, mother-child separation, and the eventual forced lactation. These are the current UK dairy farm practices, that are based on a US model which also severely limits the cow’s ability to graze, naturally. This process being predominantly for the production of cheese, for human consumption. Practices and Beyond Additionally, there are various environmental concerns that go hand in hand with the dairy industry. For instance, 22 million tonnes of cheese are made annually across the globe. The mean average CO2 footprint is 9.8kg per 1kg of produced cheese, and for some cheeses like gouda, the footprint is as high as 16kg of CO2. One might associate soya as predominantly being only used in the production of protein-rich foods like tofu, soya drinks, or edamame beans. But, 80% of all soya harvests are being used to feed livestock. Furthermore, what used to be grass and food waste as the main food source for cattle has now mainly been replaced by soya grains. Based on data from 2019, the British dairy industry imports around 360,000 tonnes of soya per year, from countries like Argentina, Brazil, and the US. This makes UK Dairy farms the second biggest soya consumer after UK poultry farms. Soya is being directly linked to deforestation. How are Supermarket Products Linked to Deforestation? New investigations revealed that various UK supermarket brands are linked to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, and the Cerrado ecoregion. The soya crops that are grown instead provide a food source to cattle on UK farms, which supply companies such as Cathedral City, Anchor, and Davidstow Cheddar, with milk. Anna Jones, from Greenpeace UK has stated that, ‘Many people will be appalled to hear that their cheese and butter are linked to forest destruction on the other side of the Atlantic.’ These tropical regions are homes to various animals and plants, and are hotspots of biodiversity. 10% of all known species on Earth inhabit the Amazon rainforest, and 5% of the world’s animal and plant species live in the Cerrado ecoregion. Moreover, the forests play a big role in maintaining a good climate. Cargill, one of the biggest US grain companies, also supplies UK farms with soya bought from Brazil. Already named the “Worst Company in the World” in 2019 and having been under criticism for lobbying, they have faced new allegations surrounding deforestation. Investigations by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), Greenpeace Unearthed, and ITV News revealed that Cargill’s Brazilian soya supplier, Grupo Scheffer, has been responsible for several environmental damages like logging or burning down large swathes of forest in the recent years. What is the Damage? In 2021 alone, Grupo Scheffer produced over 560,000 tonnes of cotton, corn, and soya and has been producing soya for 30 years across the amazon rainforest, the Cerrado ecoregion, and the Pantanal, which is the world’s largest tropic wetland. According to satellite images taken by the NGO AidEnvironment, Grupo Scheffer farms cleared 10sqkm of forest in 2019 and 2020, but when questioned, the company stated that they didn’t manage those areas, although they have been fined for clearing woodlands before. However, other Cargill suppliers have also been linked to logging 800sqkm of the Cerrado region’s forests. Furthermore, there have been over 12,000 controlled burnings since 2015 for crop production, according to TBIJ. Cargill responded to accusations stating that: “We take this type of grievance against a supplier very seriously […] If violations re found in any area, we will take immediate action in accordance with our Soy Grievance Process. Cargill has worked relentlessly to build a more sustainable soy supply chain.” Cargill holds a Triple S certification, which is supposed to mean that they use sustainably certified soya. However, sustainable soya can be mixed with non-certified beans from deforested regions, which makes the sustainability factor questionable, and weighs down the ethical value of dairy products like cheese in the supermarket. Mole Valley Feeds, another soya feed supplier, is one of the main suppliers in the UK. Their soya is used on cattle farms that supply cheese manufacturers, like Saputo. Saputo produces cheese brands like Davidstow Cheddar and Cathedral City. Following investigations, Saputo have publicly stated that: "Our Davidstow Farm Standards will mandate that all farms which supply to Saputo Dairy UK’s Davidstow creamery must source feed from suppliers with a sustainable soy purchasing policy." Concluding Comments The hidden environmental impact of UK dairy is widely unknown to consumers. It is important to ensure that suppliers are transparent in the environmental impact of their products, allowing consumers to make informed choices. Head of Forests Policy and Advocacy at Global Witness, Jo Blackman has commented that, ‘Time and time again we have seen commodities like soya linked to tropical deforestation entering UK supply chains. This is a systemic problem, and we need strong legislation to tackle it.’ There has been an urge for new laws and proposals made against deforestation and a demand for better management of supply chain origins. Greenpeace UK has commented that, ‘The government knows this is a huge problem, yet its own proposals on eliminating deforestation from supply chains will only apply if that deforestation is illegal.’ Similar: The Hidden Cost of Avocados We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

    Ziryan Aziz reports on the health benefits linked to the consumption of fermented food and drinks. Photo by Dina Light Recorded to go as far back as 7000 BC, the process of fermentation is an efficient and effective method to extend the shelf life of our food. A method used by cultures and peoples across the world, fermentation not only allows humans to store perishable dairy, meats, cheeses, and vegetables for longer durations, but it also comes with a spectrum of health benefits that have only recently received scientific attention. What is fermentation? The expansive-global food supply system means it’s now easier than ever to purchase off-season goods in the UK, such as winter strawberries from Egypt, and tomatoes from Spain. Relative to how we live today, most people have historically relied on preserving their food using fermentation to carry them through periods of food scarcity, like winters and on long journeys via marine trade networks. So, what can be fermented? All food groups can be fermented. For example, milk can be converted into cheese, vegetables can be pickled, and meats and fish can be cured. Even grains can be made into beer and sourdough, which has a reduced likelihood of mold growth which is perfect for a longer lasting loaf. Fruits can be dried, stored in fermenting syrups, or made into beverages like wine. The list of possible fermented food and drinks is in the thousands: they all help to increase the specific food’s longevity. The process of fermentation is very simple, involving an anaerobic process where microorganisms like bacteria, yeast or fungi convert organic compounds such as starch and sugars, into alcohol and organic acids. These acids act as a natural preservative that slows down the process of spoilage. It also gives the food that unique zesty taste and texture that fermented products are known for and promotes beneficial enzymes, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as other species of good bacteria. The Health Benefits? The following are some of the health benefits associated with fermenting food and drinks: 1. A Source of Probiotics Fermented foods like yogurts, pickles, sourdough bread, and some cheeses can contain a natural number of probiotic bacteria. Probiotic cultures help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut. Bacteria, viruses, and eukaryotes in the gut have been shown to interact with one and other, and with the immune system, influencing the development of disease. With the addition of probiotics, some studies have shown them to be generally beneficial in the prevention and treatment for gastrointestinal diseases. Other studies have linked probiotics to reducing the duration of illness in adults and children. 2. Assisting Digestion During fermentation naturally present sugars and starches are broken down which can aid digestion. For example, when making cheese, lactose in the milk is broken down into simple sugars like glucose and galactose, which makes cheese much easier to digest for those who are lactose intolerant. 3. Improving Health and Availability of Nutrients Fermentation can increase the volume of minerals and vitamins available to our bodies for absorption and eliminates antinutrients. In cereals and legumes there is a naturally high concentration of antinutritional compounds such as phytic acid, tannins, lectins, and other enzyme inhibitors, for example. Studies have shown that roughly half of humans globally are malnourished of micronutrients, especially in developing countries where there exist major health problems associated with zinc and iron deficiencies. A significant antinutrient such as Phytic acid is a food inhibitor, which prevents micronutrients from being available to humans, but also in animals such as dogs, chickens, and pigs. These antinutrient substances interfere with digestibility of proteins and carbohydrates, reducing the nutritional value of food. Fermentation can eliminate these antinutrients. For example, whole wheat bread, which when including varying amounts of sourdough has seen a reduction of phytate content by up to 97%. Other plant-based foods see improved mineral solubility when fermented (See Table 2. here). 4. Better Heart Health Studies have shown that consuming the probiotics found in fermented foods can have a modest impact on improving your blood pressure, when consumed regularly over a long period. Fermented dairy products have been identified as having beneficial effects on cholesterol levels – especially yogurts. Other studies involving soy protein – a fermented product used in tofu, miso, tempeh, natto, etcetera - have shown a decrease in bad cholesterol levels when consumed. However, more research is needed to confirm benefits associated with cardiovascular health. 5. Psychological Benefits Certain strains of probiotic cultures like Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175 – commonly found in fermented food like certain cheeses and dairy products – have been shown to have a anxiety reducing effect, and produce psychological benefits in animal and human studies. Furthermore, studies have shown that consuming probiotic rich foods can have positive effects on depression, particularly in men. Concluding Comments Introducing fermented food and drinks into your diet is a great way to not only broaden your palate with new zesty, fresh and colourful flavours, but also reap the health benefits of the probiotic cultures, greater bioavailability, and nutritional properties. Whilst more research is severely needed on the wide range of health benefits attributed to fermented food and drink, the functionality and increased shelf life of fermented goods is one of the reasons why this tradition of food preparation has been passed down through the generations for thousands of years. Similar: The Health Benefits of Whole Grains We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • World’s Richest 10% Produce Half of All Emissions

    Aimee Jones reports on carbon emissions and puts into perspective, those who are contributing most to climate change. Photo by nikldn According to the Cambridge dictionary, emissions are defined as the “production and discharge of something, typically gases and radiation which are harmful to our environment”. Harmful emissions have increased exponentially since the Industrial Revolution and it is no surprise that the richest 10% of the population emit over half of all global emissions. What Are Greenhouse Gases? Greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, trap heat from the sun inside the ozone layer, acting as a “glass wall” for our planet. Thus, greenhouse gases keep earth habitable for both humans and millions of other species by preventing freezing temperatures as low at -18 degrees Celsius. However, a great increase in these gases can have detrimental effects to our planet by initiating a knock-on effect of global warming. Humans release these emissions by burning fossil fuels; some of the main contributors are non-renewable modes of transport, such as diesel cars, airplanes, and public transport. The most prevalent greenhouse gas that threatens our planet today is carbon dioxide, which is at its highest level ever recorded increasing by 47% in concentration since the 1800s. Who is Responsible? While we can all play a part in reducing our carbon footprints, in the United States, the poorest 50% of the country emit approximately ten tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. However, when you take a look at the richest 10% of the population, they emit roughly seventy-five tonnes per person. One reason for this disparity stems from the inequalities amongst the distribution of goods and services. For example, the rich can purchase more goods and services, as well as invest, in comparison to less affluent individuals. Those who are in the bottom 50% net personal wealth share only contribute to a stark 1.8% of the world’s total in 2022, meaning that owning less assets - that may consume non-renewable energy – produces a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Some celebrities, or high-profile individuals, have been found to recklessly increase their carbon footprint. Jeff Bezos, for example, took an 11-minute trip into space which emitted more carbon per passenger than the entire lifetime emissions for any one of the world's poorest people. Funding unnecessary space missions when environmental charities are underfunded in a ‘vicious cycle’ is a prime example of the ignorance towards global warming among the elite. Celebrities have also been known for extreme use of private jets for small haul flights which could have been made using an alternative, less damaging, method of travel. A prime example would be Kylie Jenner using her jet for a 17-minute flight after sharing a photograph on social media showing both hers and her partner's jets, trying to decide which one to take for the journey. Moreover, a recent survey found that Taylor Swift’s private jet had taken 170 flights between January 1st and July 29th of 2022. This totals approximately 15.9 days in the air, with the average flight lasting 80-minutes. The emissions that were produced were 1,184.8 times more than the yearly average for any individual. Funding unnecessary space missions when environmental charities are underfunded in a ‘vicious cycle’, or exploiting extreme modes of transport, is a prime example of the ignorance towards global warming among the elite in service of ‘convenience’. Levelling Out the Carbon Footprint There have been various policies and procedures that have been made to tackle the increasing emissions and start bringing them down. However, these changes are disproportionate for the middle and the lower classes. A generalised carbon tax seems to be unfair to those who are already struggling. For example, most of the emissions from middle and lower-class citizens come from the use of cars and general heating; they may need a car to travel to work and will need to heat their homes during the winter. These are seen as essentials. Yet, the wealthier families' emissions mainly come from making extravagant purchases and investments, therefore making them more deserving of taxation when it comes to their carbon footprint. To even out the carbon footprint in the U.S, the top emitters would need to decrease emissions by 87% by the year 2023, while the bottom half could afford to increase their emissions by 3%. Authors of a 2020 Natural Communications journal wrote: “Many people do not see themselves being part of either the problem or the solution but look for governments, technology and/or businesses to solve the problem” (Thomas Wiedmann, nature communications). Yet, they conclude that people, not institutions, need to solve the problem as ultimately legal or social structures are designed and made up by people. If people don’t change, the institutions won’t either. Similar: World’s Richest Must Cut Carbon Footprint by 97% We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • India: Ban on Single-Use Plastic

    Ottilie Von Henning reports on the ban of single-use plastics in India and the backlash Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received from affected corporations. Photo by Sara Bakhshi Currently, India is the third highest polluter in the world and is estimated to generate 14 million tons of un-recyclable plastic each year. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposing a new ban in 2019 to eliminate all single-use plastics by 2022, the Indian government has sought to temper climate change with long-overdue action. What are Single-use Plastics? Single-use plastics are products made predominantly from fossil fuel–based chemicals (petrochemicals) and are meant to be disposed of right after use—often, in mere minutes. Although plastics - a chain of synthetic polymers - were invented in the mid-19th century, their popularity grew in the 1970s to become one of the primary offenders in the escalation of global warming. More than half of non-fibre plastic comes from packaging alone, most of which is for single-use products. Since the 1950s, 8.3 billion tons of plastic has been produced overall, with the last 15 years being responsible for 50% of this total. Now, 8 million tons of single-use plastic waste is released into the oceans per year from coastal nations. Modi’s new ban is an attempt to eliminate one of the major environmental enemies on the planet, with 380 million tons of plastic produced each year and half destined for single-use products, like packaging, cutlery, and straws (all of which have been forbidden in EU Market States). As a result, India is home to vast trash mountains that loom over the outskirts of major cities, with the River Ganges being the second largest plastic contributor to the world’s oceans before China’s Yangtze. One trash mountain looms in Ghazipur, east of New Delhi, and is just months away from rising higher than the Taj Mahal at 73 meters tall, making the implementation of Modi’s ban as urgent as ever. The Backlash from Corporations The ban has, nonetheless, been met with significant opposition. Several corporations, such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, India’s Parle Agro Pvt., David and Amul, have all protested the including of plastic straws in the ban, arguing their current demand is far too large to sustain the necessary changes. It is estimated that Indian manufacturers of biodegradable plastic can meet up to 8% of demands and the beverage companies would be unable to import more that 20% of their desired amounts. Schauna Chauchan, chief excectuive officer of Parle Agro Pvt., one of India’s largest beverage makers, has commented on Modi’s expectations, saying: “The industry is being forced to import at a time when costs are soaring and there are huge disruptions in shipping globally” (Schauna Chauhan, Business Standard). A plethora of issues have been opened up for these companies, not to mention the fact that paper straws could add between 0.25 and 1.25 rupees to the cost of each unit, according to Kotak Institutional Equities. Such a surge in prices would certainly damage the business and their profit margins and those 1,000,000 employees working for the industry, yet these financial losses are merely collateral damage in the quest to save the world from climate change. In India, 88,000 companies produce single-use plastics, and US consumers throw away at least 170 million plastic straws each day produced by companies such as Parle Agro Pvt. Considering 80% of marine litter is plastic, this can no longer be ignored by the Indian government, hence Modi’s desire to act immediately. Contributing to Change Despite having a population of 1.4 billion, India has not been a historical contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions. Between 1870 and 2019, India only contributed 4%of the global total. Moreover, as the third highest polluter, India generates 2.88 CO2 gigatonnes (Gt) annually. Initially, this certainly strikes as a large number, but compared with China as the highest polluter at 10.6 Gt and the second highest polluter the United States at 5 Gt, India’s ban cannot be the only source of resolve if the globe is to fight climate change. Once plastics enter the ocean, they are difficult to retrieve. Mechanical systems, such as the Mr. Trash Wheel in Maryland’s Baltimore Harbor, is effective in collecting larger pieces of plastics, but microplastics are virtually impossible to recover. Therefore, Modi setting the ambitious goal of cutting emissions by 22% before 2030 will be an incredible feat towards reducing plastic waste, but not without the aid of other countries in achieving substantial change. Similar: France: Plastic Packaging for Fruit and Veg Banned We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Russia: The Companies Leaving and Those Still Invested

    Ziryan Aziz reports on the businesses still operating in Russia, over two hundred days into the invasion of Ukraine. Photo by Damir Babacic After 32 years since McDonald’s first opened its doors to curious Muscovites, all the way back in the 1990s Soviet Union, the American fast-food conglomerate will be closing its doors for the last time. But is this the only company to shut down operations within Russia? McDonald’s has chosen to leave Russia for good, citing the Russian Invasion of Ukraine as reason for the unstable conditions for operating. In mid-May, the company announced that it had finally found a Russian buyer, Alexander Govor, who will take on the company’s 850 stores and 62,000 staff. Govor had pledged to rebrand the McDonald stores in Russia, and established a new fast-food chain called Vkusno i Tochka ("Tasty and thats it") Other western brands, like Nike, Adidas, and Renault who had initially only suspended their operations, have also decided to abandon the Russian market altogether. With a pricey cost to remain, and with the threat of having their assets seized by the state, the departure of western companies operating in Russia has only accelerated. However, despite the international pressure, several well-known brands continue to do business, for varying reasons. Complex Franchise Agreements One such reasons why some companies have found it difficult to remove their brands from the Russian market, is because they do not directly own their stores in Russia. They are locked in franchise agreements. In March, the popular British supermarket chain, Marks & Spencer (M&S), still had 48 outlets open across Russia. However, it's stores were operated by a Turkish company called FiBA, who had the right to sell M&S products, but M&S did not own the operations bearing their name. Breaking franchise agreements can be difficult legally, and in response M&S suspended its supplies to FiBA before it was agreed all its stores would close in late May. Other chains like Burger King have been less successful in leaving the Russian market. The producer of the Whopper burger, which is owned by the parent company, Restaurant Brands International Inc (RBI), still has its estimated 800 franchise locations open. Much like Marks & Spencer, RBI doesn’t own any of its restaurants In Russia. Instead, Burger King has a complex joint-venture-style master franchise agreement. RBI has a 15% stake in Burger King Russia Ltd, and 30% of the joint venture is owned by Alexander Kolobov, Burger King’s master franchisee in Russia. The rest is divided between VTB, a Russian state-owned bank, and Investment Capital Ukraine, an equity and asset management firm in Kyiv. But, there is an ongoing dispute between RBI and Kolobov as to who has the authority to close the stores, and whilst RBI would like its Russian based stores to close, legally, it has little right to enforce this. However, Burger King is not alone with the challenges of breaking away from the Russian market. The Swedish homeware giant, IKEA, is facing a similar issue. In March, the company made a statement on their website, claiming: “The war has had a huge human impact already. It is also resulting in serious dis-ruptions to supply chain and trading conditions. For all of these reasons, the company groups have decided to temporarily pause IKEA operations in Russia” – IKEA Franchise, IKEA. IKEA has closed 17 stores in Russia to date, and pledged €20 million to help Ukrainian refugees, with a further €10 million worth of products for international charities. However, INGKA Group, a holding group based in the Netherlands, has chosen to keep all 14 of its MEGA shopping centres open. The Netherlands based group was created by the founder of IKEA, operating 86% the IKEA’s global stores, and manages sales channels un-der the IKEA Concept and IKEA Brand. In the same statement, IKEA said that MEGA sites will remain open, so “people in Russia have access to their daily needs and essentials such as food, groceries and pharmacies.” The Russian MEGA Shopping centres are managed under IKEA Centres Russia and attracts over 250 million visitors a year. Still Operating As mentioned, many Western companies have suspended their operations in Russia, and some for legal reasons are unable to completely detach. But there are some who choose to actively remain within the Russian market. Some of the more well-known corporations and businesses include banks like Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase, who have all publicly stated that they are in the process of winding down their operations in Russia, but are committed to leaving in the near future. Others are less keen. Hard Rock, best known for the Hard Rock Café chain, is keeping its Moscow and St. Petersburg stores open for business. Hard Rock has said it will donate the profits from its franchises to humanitarian causes in Ukraine, but like all foreign businesses that still operate in Russia, the taxes generated through sales and other means could be used to fuel the Russian war effort. The popular online dating platforms Tinder and Match.com, are also continuing to do business in Russia, unlike their competitor Bumble, who removed their app from the Russian and Belarusian Google and Apple stores. Domino’s Pizza has chosen to keep its 188 stores open across the country but said it won’t accept any royalties from its Russian franchise operations. This is a similar pledge by TGI Friday’s, who will also keep its stores open, but will donate franchise fees to Ukrainian relief efforts. It is unclear whether either company has suspended shipments of ingredients and other materials to their franchise locations. PepsiCo, the American multinational food, snack, and beverage corporation, best known for producing the Pepsi drink, is still selling its goods in Russia. The corporation has suspended the sale of its major drink brands, capital investments, advertising and promotional activities. However, due to what it describes as a “humanitarian” effort, it still sells dairy produce in the country, such as cheese, and baby formula. It is unclear at the time of writing, what percentage of baby formula in Russia is trademarked under PepsiCo. A major competitor, Nestlé, is also promising to only sell ‘essential’ items, like cereals, specialist pet foods, and baby food/formula. In 2014, Nestlé trademarked baby formula accounted for a staggering 48.7% of all baby formula in Russia. Closing Remarks The examples used in this article make up only a small percentage of the 247 international businesses identified as still operating, in some capacity. In total, there are 11 major United Kingdom based businesses that have either only scaled back operations, postponed investments, development, marketing, or outright continue to do business as usual. For businesses based in the European Union, this number is much higher. Many companies based in China, India, and further afield may seek to take advantage of the departure of Western businesses and look to fill the void left behind. Chinese businesses are currently in a good position to increase their presence in the Russian market, as China seeks to strengthen its relationship with Russia, and Russia needs foreign investment to recover lost revenue. Indeed, it is incredibly important to highlight the evolution of businesses during this volatile period of Eastern European history. For the companies that remain active within Russia, during its invasion of Ukraine, this only emphasises that shareholder profits will always be the primary objective, whatever the cost. A comprehensive and updated list on these businesses has been provided by Yale University’s School of Management, and can be found in the attached link here. Similar: The Cost of Living Crisis in the UK We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Report: UK Exported 10,000 Tonnes of Banned Pesticides

    Mary Jane Amata reports on how, despite banning the use of harmful pesticides in-country, the UK are still exporting agrochemicals to developing nations. Photo by Juan Pablo Daniel Due to a loophole in UK legislation, a Greenpeace report has found that seven agrochemicals, that have long been banned in the UK, are still being exported abroad. Over 10,000 tons of pesticides related to high toxicity, birth defects and even death, have been shipped to countries across the globe and are causing disastrous consequences to the population and ecosystems of developing nations. The Deadly Seven and More... A report conducted by Unearthed has found that in 2020, the UK exported products containing seven banned pesticides. What’s more, the UK applied to obtain permission to ship a further six, which was in virtue of their exit from the EU and not conforming to the European Commission proposal to draft an EU-wide ban on said chemicals. Although these pesticides have long been banned on British soil, however, there is no interdiction for them to still be produced and exported to foreign countries. The pesticides found in the exported products include Paraquat, Diquat and Asulam, (herbicides), Imidacloprid and Cyhalothrin (insecticides), and Chlorothalonil and Propiconazole (fungicides). But what are some of the reasons these pesticides should be banned? Paraquat is known to be the most toxic pesticide in the world, causing an alarming number of deaths and increasing the risk of Parkinson’s disease. This weedkiller has now been banned in 50 countries, as statistics show that paraquat is 65% deadlier than other pesticides when ingested. The company that produces this agrochemical, Syngenta, has objected that Paraquat is safe when used according to directions. They have even taken precautions to avoid accidental ingestion by giving Paraquat three distinguishable features: a strong chemical odour, a specific dye, emetic qualities to induce vomiting in those that inadvertently swallow it. Propiconazole is known to be highly toxic to babies in the womb. Studies have found that Propiconazole may change the activity of the CYP51 enzyme, which is necessary to produce sexual steroid hormones and can therefore become an endocrine disruptor. This fungicide can also inhibit the aromatase enzyme, which transforms androgens into oestrogens, and may have detrimental effects on the reproductive process. Imidacloprid, one of three "neonicotinoids", was exported from the UK in 2020 following the prohibition of outdoor usage in 2018. The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN have issued a warning that a "rapidly growing body of evidence" strongly suggests that "existing levels of environmental contamination" by Imidacloprid and other neonicotinoids are "causing large-scale adverse effects on bees and other beneficial insects”. Numerous samples of produce examined in 2020 and earlier years still contain residues of bee-toxic neonicotinoids which is highly concerning. The recent losses in populations of bees and other pollinators have been linked in large part to this class of insecticides and the UK and EU have rightly prohibited their usage. Banned in the West, Destined for Developing Countries Considered unsuitable or dangerous in western countries, these pesticides are being exported to developing countries that have less restrictions. Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, India, and Indonesia are among the developing nations that will receive some of these pesticides. But it is not only developing countries that have bought large quantities of paraquat, for example. The US, Australia, and Japan likewise purchase large amounts of pesticiees, such as 1,3-dichloropropene. As Başkut Tuncak, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances, stated: "Just because a country is wealthy does not mean there are not grave human rights violations and abuses being committed against vulnerable communities. […] In the US, where three times more pesticide products are registered for use, farmworkers suffer more chemical-related injuries and illnesses than any other workforce. The racial dimension can not be ignored, with so many agricultural and food workers from migrant and minority backgrounds” (Başkut Tuncak, The Guardian). Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that people of colour (POC) and lower income communities are more at risk of pesticide exposure. A study has found that 90% of pesticides employed in the US are intended for agricultural use making farmers the most vulnerable to them. Among these, 83% identify as Hispanic. This goes to show that structural injustices, regulation loopholes and the inadequate protection of farmers and generally lower income workers, have been the reason for the disproportionate effect on POC by the handling and utilisation of harmful pesticides. How These Pesticides Affect Our Food Traces of pesticide residue from agricultural practices can often end up in, or on, our food. Several pesticides, for example, have been found in fruit, vegetables, and grains. Glyphosate and chlormequat, that have been found in barley, oats, and wheats, are both a probable carcinogen and plant growth regulator respectively. Research from the Pesticides Action Network UK has analysed something called the “Cocktail Effect” which happens when pesticides are combined and become more harmful. Although increasing evidence of this effect has been gathered, the regulatory system which should protect people from pesticides continues to carry out assessments for one chemical at a time. Unfortunately, a false perception of the number of pesticides present in our food is created, and the true number of harmful chemicals remains to be hidden. A Plan Forward? Even though the UK has banned certain pesticides and chemicals from being used on the country’s ground, it has still found a viable way to produce and export the same dangerous substances to other parts of the world. The quality control is weaker, therefore harmful chemicals are still used for farming. Although the UK has set out a post-Brexit 25 year environment plan in order to protect and enhance the country’s natural landscapes and nature, this won’t be enough to protect the world’s population and ecosystems, and it will eventually backfire as the UK imports about 46% of the food it consumes. This means that, if the UK is indeed exporting toxic pesticides to other countries that employ them for farming, it will not only become part of the problem in those areas, but at some point, that very produce will end up back on the UK’s tables. Similar: UK Government has Lifted Ban on Bee-Harming Pesticide We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Insulate Britain: Legal System Not Legitimate

    Jenny Donath reports on why Insulate Britain has organised protests disrupting national infrastructure and how the UK government has extended policing powers in response. Photo by Mathaia Reding In 2021, Insulate Britain activists made a statement by taping themselves to the M25 highway. Their appeal to the government, urging them to launch a national home insulation programme to reduce the use of fossil fuels, was to prevent any further greenhouse gas emissions and the complete exhaustion of fossil fuels. Extreme forms of protest have become more and more common in the last few years. With Insulate Britain blocking the highway, a disruption for over 18,000 drivers was caused, including an ambulance carrying a patient who needed urgent care. Consequently, the obstructive protest had resulted in over 520 recorded offences and the arrest of 174 Insulate Britain members and 129 supporters. Imposed fines ranged from £120 to £400 pounds, making these specific protest tactics extremely controversial amongst the British public. How Insulate Britain Responded Burning gas and oil to heat homes causes 16% of all UK gas emissions, and insulation is key to cutting this figure down. David Cameron’s Conservative government notoriously had a lack of funding for the 2013-15 green deal policy, further scrapping rigorous standards for insulation in new homes in 2016. At least 1.5m homes are inadequate for the UK’s 2035 carbon emission goal. Insulate Britain responded to the UK government’s mistreatment of insulation schemes with an open letter to thank their supporters, appeal to public conscience, and express their frustration at UK citizens going cold during the winter: “It is shameful that there are currently people in prison for doing what is right at this point in history. We want to be clear that at this time ‘reducing your own impact on the planet’ is a completely inadequate response to a crisis that will destroy the law and order you are there to uphold. Those who hold positions of responsibility have an even greater responsibility to step up at this time” (Insulate Britain, Insulate Britain). Criticism from the UK Government Criticism has risen regarding the possible danger of the obstructions caused by Insulate Britain activists. For instance, police officers are forced to oversee protestors’ campaigns instead of pursuing their regular duties, like focusing on crimes or ensuring safety by policing neighbourhoods. In response, the government has imposed heavier measures as part of the Public Order Act 1986, to deal with protests that affect everyday life. The Public Order Act 1986 currently ensures a balance between the rights of protestors to engage in peaceful protests and the rights of people affected by protest campaigns that have a “significant impact on persons or serious disruption to the activities of an organisation by noise; serious disorder; serious damage to property; serious disruption to the life of the community”. Along with implementing this law, the government has heavily criticised the actions of protests organised by groups such as Insulate Britain, using labels like “selfish”, “anti-social”, and referring to their protests as practicing “criminal, disruptive and self-defeating guerrilla tactics”. Extending Policing Powers The UK government has consequently extended the scope of the police’s power to prevent a further increase in extreme protests. New measures allow the police to stop and search protestors, allowing them to confiscate objects which could be used to cause disruption. Furthermore, they can prohibit people from being in a particular place, being with particular people, and forbid them to use the internet to possibly encourage others to commit a protesting offence. To ensure these preventions are possible, powers to take these measures have been extended to police officers from the British Transport Police and the Ministry of Defence Police. Furthermore, the seniority level of police officers who can apply such prohibitions has been changed in the London area. Protestors who now make use of the locking-on method, like taping yourself to the ground, or obstruct major transport works, will now face a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment or an unlimited fine upon arrest. Interfering with key national infrastructure is now punished with a maximum imprisonment of twelve months or an unlimited fine. Tunnelling could even result in a penalty as high as three years imprisonment. However, the government ensures that protests are generally still legal, and those new measures only affect a small minority of protestors who otherwise would cause serious disruption to the everyday life of the public. Challenging the Jury This makes it even harder for activists to raise awareness about important matters, like the climate crisis. Insulate Britain claimed that all other attempts of peaceful campaigning had not led to the wished results and therefore drastic methods had been used to raise awareness, further stating in court that the “criminalisation by the judiciary of ordinary people attempting to preserve lives and the very fabric of our society is abhorrent.” According to Insulate Britain, unjust laws need to be challenged and an extreme situation, like the climate crisis, demands extreme action as the consequences will be felt closer to home. In October 2022, the UK’s gas and electricity bills soared, with middle income families struggling to pay the hefty £285 bill per month, let alone less affluent families unable to afford the most necessity like boiling potatoes. Although the UK government has pledged to phase out gas boilers by the late 2030s, heat pumps would be ineffective without well insulated homes. “There’s no silver bullet,” says Juliet Phillips of climate thinktank E3G, as every house is different. Yet, we cannot let Insulate Britain’s protests go to waste. The UK government needs to prioritise refitting social housing and poorer-occupied houses first with, what Phillip called, “an Olympic-style employment and skills taskforce”. Solid wall insulation, maintained heat pumps, and solar panels are what we all need in a united front against climate change. Similar: Downgrading of Democracy: The Police, Crimes & Sentencing Bill We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Study: Fish Have ‘Talked’ for 155 Million Years

    Aimee Jones reports on how many fish communicate with one another, and that now we can hear their voices. Photo by Luis Vidal Although we have known for many years that fish can make sounds, it was assumed that they primarily rely on other means of communication, such as colour signals, body language, and electricity. However, when 34,000 species of ray-finned Actinopterygii were studied, 66% of the fish families were found to communicate via sound. The Nature of Fish ‘Voices’ For most fish, the swim bladder produces the many sounds they make. The ‘purr’, ‘croak’, and ‘popping’ sounds are some of the most common we record from fish. The sonic muscle relaxes and contracts and, in turn, makes the swim bladder vibrate and produces sound as a result. Alternatively, sounds may be produced by tough parts of the body hitting one another, such as bones and teeth. Robert McCauley conducted a study in Perth over an 18-month period to research the nature of these underwater sounds. Acoustic communication amongst fish has evolved approximately 33 times due to habitual diversity over 150 million years. Therefore, McCauley found that two fish from the same species may have difficulty understanding one another based on regional accents. For example, the ‘boops’, ‘honks’, and ‘hoots’ used amongst three-spinned toadfish would resemble more the croaking of a frog, where midshipman fish emit a low hum. Most of his recordings depicted a solo fish. But when the specific calls of fish overlap, they form a chorus - a primary mode of group communication. McCauley discovered seven distinct choruses, which sounded at dawn and dusk, that were unusually similar to sounds expected from birds. However, these sounds are believed to share a similarity to human communication, ranging from interactions concerning sexual, nutritional, or territorial desires. Despite regional differences, though, there is something more malicious that affects the communication between our underwater friends. Too Loud for Water? Human noise pollution, from practices like commercial fishing, shipping, and military sonar, has been found to interfere with the fish's health and the way in which they communicate. Over 21 species of fish rely on sound in order to thrive, so intervention from man-made infrastructures has not only made oceans noisier, but has believed to drown out communication between fish. Ecologist, Ben Haplern, has iterated that: “The landscape of sound – or soundscape – is such a powerful indicator of the health of an environment. […] Like we have done in our cities on land, we have replaced the sounds of nature throughout the ocean with those of humans” - Ben Haplern, YaleEnvironment360. This kind of noise can dramatically impact acoustic communication between fish, not only causing them a great deal of stress but can even force fish to leave their habitats. Their ability to navigate their surroundings, communicate with one another, locate their prey, escape their predators, and even finding a mate, are all disturbed. Letting Nature Be Heard Aurore Morin, a marine conservation campaigner for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), states that only 1 in 5 people know what ocean noise pollution is. A lack of education on what acoustic communication is and how it has been negatively affected is a product of the matter not being considered ‘urgent’. However, IFAW have arguably given fish a voice. Across six continents, IFAW have saved more than 200,000 animals who have been harmed by human intervention, although this is only a fraction of the true number of animals living in distress. Researcher Aaron Rice believes that more studies researching and capturing the complex acoustic environment will help connect people with life under the water and, ultimately, encourage them to speak out against industries that invertedly harm marine ecosystems. As both inhabitants of the earth, we should not be complicit in harming the lives of fish. It is our job to preserve them. Similar: Sentient Beings: UK Government Pledges Animal Welfare Plan We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Study: Cows Communicate Their Emotions

    Euan Cook reports on the University of Sydney’s study about how cows can communicate complex emotions and the importance of farmers respecting their livestock. Photo by Morten Hornum Humans have often felt detached from understanding and accepting the complex emotions and intelligence between our pets and “food” animals. However, a recent study from the University of Sydney records the “first evidence of cows maintaining individual vocalization” where cows are empirically proven to alter vocal pitches according to their emotions. “Cows are gregarious, social animals. In one sense it isn’t surprising they assert their individual identity throughout their life.” (Alexandra Green, Power of Positivity). Domesticated for human use since the early Neolithic period since 10,500 BC, semiferal cows have undergone between 80 and 200 generations of mostly natural selection following their introduction to the Americas in the late 1400s. Now, cows are the most common type of domesticated ungulates, being raised for meat and dairy products along with their role as draft animals for labour. The Physiology and Psychology of Cows Mostly considered as a passive agent in the meat industry, it is often overlooked that cows rely upon all five sensory modalities. As a prey animal, they have a wide field of view of at least 330 degrees and their hearing ranges from 23 Hz to 35 kHz. Moreover, cows have a well-developed gustatory sense and can distinguish the four primary tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. Cows’ macrosmatic nature mean they have a keen sense of smell, along with being incredibly sensitive to touch. Although they are sensitive to pain, cows sometimes suppress signs of pains to evade predators. Ultimately, they feel emotion. The three areas that define emotional experience in cows are the following: 1) emotional reactions to learning, 2) cognitive bias, 3) emotional contagion and social buffering. Emotional Reactions to Learning The first of these factors refer to the emotional effects of improving on a task separable from reactions to a reward itself. A cow, for example, may become excited because he or she can control the delivery of a reward, demonstrating some level of self-awareness such as self-referral or self-agency. Cognitive Bias Secondly, cognitive bias, or the effects of negative or positive emotions on judgements, has been observed before and after cows are separated from their mothers. Before separation, cows responded to positive stimuli 72% of the time. However, after separation, this response dropped to 62%, highlighting that when cows are distressed, they exhibit a relatively more negative response bias towards ambiguous stimuli. Emotional Contagion and Social Buffering Thirdly, emotional contagion is the oldest level of empathy, allowing cows to imagine the capacity for empathy with the ability to share or match emotional experiences at some level. Furthermore, social buffering refers to the idea that social animals react less intensively to negative stresses when they are in the presence of conspecifics. Therefore, the mere presence of unstressed conspecifics is calming and social animals, likewise, find is extremely stressful to be socially isolated. Vocal individuality of Holstein-Friesian Cattle In 2019, Professor Alexandra Green studied a herd of 18 Holstein-Freisan heifers and progressively collected 333 samples of cow vocalisation which are encoded with an individual identity. According to her research, an alteration of the pitch of cow’s moos can express a wide range of emotions from distress, excitement, and arousal. Within a herd, demonstrating individuality in high-frequency calls would be biologically advantageous by helping to receiving support from other cows. Green and her colleagues measured over 20 vocal features of moos, including pitch, duration, amplitude and vocal “roughness”. Vocalisations are produced by two independent processes: sound generated by vibrations in the vocal folds and sound filtered by the vocal tract. Using 170 putatively positive calls, Green produced eight significant discriminant functions, which were used to identify 78.2% of the calls to the correct heifer. Ultimately, high frequency cattle calls were assigned to the correct individual at least 60% of the time within the same emotional valence and least 49% across all emotional valences. Confronting the Food Industry Ultimately, all through their lives, cows keep their individual moos, even if they’re talking to themselves. Cows even take turns in conversations, which is beneficial in the animal kingdom to communicate needs such as the location of food sources or incoming threats. With this knowledge, along with the multiple scientific studies discovering how cows emote more and more like humans, the question of their role in the food chain becomes more pressing. An increase of cattle farming has attempted to accommodate a rising global population, but with a rise in consumer consciousness and the highly gregarious nature of cows, we as a society should promote more ethical cattle rearing to help farmers, and the general public, understand animals better. “Anecdotally, farmers claim to know a lot of information about their cattle based on their voice,” Alexandra Green says. “I’d love to scientifically prove this through psychoacoustic experiments, such as playing cow sounds to farmers and seeing what they can identify, such as individual animals or stressed animals” (Alexandra Green, Psychology Today). Despite slaughterhouses being strongly advised to maintain humane and painless practices when processing cattle, cows raised for factory farms undoubtedly experience distressful and unnatural conditions that no animal should be subject to. Livestock farming contributes to 14% of greenhouse emissions globally, particularly methane and carbon dioxide, which makes the ethical restructuring of the practice on a national scale that much more urgent Similar: Record Number of People are Ditching Dairy We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Bee-Harming Pesticide Ban Lifted in UK

    Jenny Donath explores how the decision to lift ban of bee-harming pesticides will negatively affect the bee population. Photo by Bianca Ackermann In 2018, bee-harming pesticides had been banned across Europe due to heavy scientific evidence regarding its harmful impacts on bees and other pollinators. Now, they are back in the UK. Using Thiamethoxam Since the UK’s exit from the European Union, the government has granted permission to use thiamethoxam, which is part of the neonicotinoid group, as an emergency use on sugar beet crops. The decision was made because of the potential risk of the spread of aphids, which can cause virus yellows disease and negatively impact the growth of sugar beets. “The decision to approve an emergency authorisation was not taken lightly and based on robust scientific assessment. We evaluate the risks very carefully and only grant temporary emergency authorisations for restricted pesticides in special circumstances when strict requirements are met and there are no alternatives” (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). According to the government, the decision was made due to several reasons. There has been a 69% prediction of a potential virus spread this year, which has dramatically exceeded the 19% threshold. In 2020, there had already been crop losses as high as 80%. With 3,000 farmers growing sugar beets across the UK and 500 jobs in England depending on them, the government believes a temporary lifting of the ban is an appropriate measure. However, the ban has caused outrage under campaigners and activists, who believe the government had enough time to invest in research to find alternative ways to deter pests in the farming industry. Even a temporary and strictly observed application has long-term effects on bee populations, which already suffer tremendous strain. The Protection of Bees Across the world, over 200,000 bee species face extinction, with more in decline because of human intervention, including farming practices, pesticides, environmental pollution, and climate change. Since 1900, 13 bee species have become extinct in the UK and another 35 species are threatened by extinction. On top of this, there is no UK law that protects bees. It is crucial to avoid any further harm to their lives and prevent any further negative impact on their environment. Some might believe that bees only make honey, but their duties extend much further. As the main pollinator, bees pollinate about 80% of UK’s wildflowers as well as edible plants. They are overall essential to a functioning ecosystem, contributing to the growth of edible plants for humans and a rich plant diversity, like colourful flowers. The economy relies on bees as well, since they pollinate crops, fruit, and vegetable patches. Without them, farmers would need to invest 1.8bn pounds on pollination substitutes; food production would become more expensive, and drastically increase in price. Phasing out Pesticides According to studies, pesticides are damaging to pollinator’s navigational abilities, their nervous system, and breeding success. Due to a decreased number of genes that detoxify chemicals, the receptor nicotinic acetylcholine easily binds with the specific enzymes to causes these detrimental effects. Moreover, it is not only pollinators that face harm from the admission of pesticides on crops. Instead, a causal chain would be set into action, affecting biodiversity and other animal lives. Neonics are persistently applied throughout spring and are absorbed by all parts of the plant, with the chance of them reaching bodies of waters and damaging aquatic life, polluting natural habitats further. The application of neonics opposes any of the government’s goals to protect nature. Craig Bennet, the environmental campaigner of The Wildlife Trusts, had said, “The Government has outlined ambitions to restore nature, promising to protect 30% of land by 2030 and reverse declines of precious wildlife - but at the same time, it is giving a green light to use a highly toxic chemical that could harm pollinating insects and pollute soils and rivers.” Farmers will be banned from growing any flowering plants on fields, and surrounding areas, for 32 months after the use of the pesticide to avoid harming more bees. It is also unknown whether this time frame could be delayed by even more months if the UK government decided to allow pesticides in the coming years. Stephanie Morred, who works for RSPB, stated that instead of allowing harmful pesticides, the government should support farmers in other ways than purposefully continuing to induce harm on the already declining natural environment: “Highly toxic pesticides like neonicotinoids have no place in a sustainable farming system.” A five year old study showed that 86% of farmers could be able to improve the level of food production, or at least 94% of farmers not experiencing any losses, if pesticides were completely cut. Instead of using harmful short-term solutions, the government should find long-term options. Otherwise, the world, as we know it, would cease to exist without the help of bees. Similar: Pollinators Poisoned as Pesticide Companies Profit We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • The Privatisation of Public Wealth

    Mary Jane Amato reports on the history and intricacies of privatisation in the UK and what the benefits and disadvantages are for consumers and the public sector. Photo by Polina Tankilevitch As the Ofgem case hits hard on the domestic economy of consumers, talks around privatisation and the pros and cons have resurfaced, inviting us to reflect upon what selling off public sectors to private companies means. An explanation of Ofgem Ofgem is the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets. It is an independent body that regulates the electricity and natural gas markets in Great Britain. Since June 2021, an alarmingly high number of energy suppliers have completely gone bust due to the increase in wholesale gas prices and the government’s price cap, preventing them from increasing costs for consumers. As a consequence, the public will now be burdened with a 2.7 billionpayment to cover these failing suppliers. The latest report from the National Audit Office, NAO, found that Ofgem took a hazardous approach when it licenced and monitored energy suppliers in an attempt to lure new companies into the market. This has meant an incredibly loose investigation of the companies’ financial circumstances at the time of acquisition. The result has been that by 2021, many of these suppliers could not face the surge in wholesale prices of gas, with 28 of them already collapsing in 2019. Allowing publicly owned sectors to be privatised or outsourced, and enter the market on a profiteering basis, has been a common practice in the UK, not only in the energy sector but in various others, since the 80s. Privatisation in the UK and Its Impact on the Economy Privatisation is the practice of selling state-owned assets to the private sector. The privatisation process in the UK began after the Thatcher government of 1979 worried that trade unions and public ownership were impeding productivity and profitability. Prior to this, the “Winter of Discontent” during Callaghan’s government was a moment of social unrest and economic unsettlement when strikes against unfair wages occurred due to the 5% cap on wage increase implemented by the Labour Party to combat inflation. The uprisings, together with other collateral causes, led to a motion of non-confidence against Callaghan in 1979, which opened the door to the election of Margaret Thatcher. Although the plan was initially to shift from public to private ownership and management only the nationalised aerospace and shipbuilding industry, several other businesses were privatised in the years from 1979 to 1983, such as Amersham and half of Cable and Wireless. The initiative accelerated after the Tories were re-elected in 1983, and other state-owned companies were privatised, including essential utilities like British Telecom (1984) and British Aerospace (1986), as well as other companies in 1987 like Rolls-Royce and British Airways. The objectives of this operation were to make the privatised businesses more profitable, increase labour productivity and effective industry regulation and boost societal ownership of shares. By the time Margaret Thatcher’s’ mandate ended in 1990, more than 40 UK state-owned enterprises had been privatised. The share of employment accounted for by nationalised sectors declined then from 9% to under 2%. Privatisation Acquisitions in the UK from the 1980s to Today In the UK, privatisation peaked in the early 1990s. Many known public giants have since been turned into privates. Others have undergone public-private partnerships in the form of outsourcing, like in the case of the NHS, which has not been sold off but had some of its bodies contract private companies to deliver specific health services, often to help meet high demand. Let’s look at some cases of Privatisation in three main sectors in the UK: Water, Mail and Telecom. The Privatisation of Water in the UK At the beginning of the 19th century, privates owned and operated water. Later on, since it was deemed a public health necessity, it started being provided by the government, without metering and with bills being estimated on property value. With the 1989 Water Act, water and wastewater in England and Wales were privatised entirely on the back of a proposal of the conservative government. Together with the 10 privatised regional water authorities, three controlling bodies were created as well: The Drinking Water Inspectorate for potable water, The National Rovers Authority (now Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales) and the Ofwat, which deals with setting the price regime. Privatisation invested around £160 billion in improvements to drinking water as well as sewerage functioning and beaches and riverside maintenance. According to those who support and applaud the process of privatisation, it was thanks to it that in the UK, there is now a high quality of water as well as social and environmental progress connected to the correct upkeep of the water supply. Average bills are roughly the same now as 20 years ago,  at £1 per day after accounting for inflation and, according to Ofwat, they are about £120 less than they would have been in the absence of privatisation and strict independent oversight. The Privatisation of British Telecom in the UK By far, the most crucial privatisation in the UK regards British Telecom. In this instance, ministers were especially eager to examine strategies for liberalising the market and fostering competition in the industry. The British Telecommunications Act of 1981 made it possible to free BT from the Post Office's direction. The Act's primary goal was to privatise British Telecom, but it also attempted to provide provisions for the efficient management of the telecommunications sector. As a result, the monopoly that had existed since the industry was nationalised in 1912 was broken. The government formally announced plans to sell up to 51% of BT shares to private investors on July 19, 1982. The Government sold its remaining stake in further share sales in 1991 and 1993. The unions were worried that privatisation would result in job losses. According to the British Telecom unions, up to 4,500 of their members' employment was in jeopardy. The Privatisation of Royal Mail The 2015 privatisation of Royal Mail was possibly among the greatest ones in the UK, together with the Railway and water. Since the government first revealed its aim to privatise in 2010, opposition from unions and consumer advocacy groups increased, including the Communication Workers Union's threat of a strike. A nearly 500-year period of governmental control ended with the privatisation of the Royal Mail. "It is clear that the Government met its objectives in terms of delivering a privatised Royal Mail. However, it is not clear whether value for money was achieved; it appears that the taxpayer has missed out on significant value” (Business, Innovation, and Skills Committee, UK Parliament). The Threat of Passport Office Privatisation Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently threatened to privatise the Passport Office on the basis of a massive backlog on renovations and allocation. Since 5 million people put off renewing their passports during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an unprecedented spike in demand after the restrictions were lifted. UK citizens are required to have at least three months of validity on their passports under post-Brexit EU travel regulations, which might add additional stress to the system. According to the PCS union, the backlog of applications is caused by staff shortages, poor management, and problems with private contractors. Yet, even though this move might make the service faster and more efficient, what would it actually mean for consumers? The truth is that a brand-new passport is not inexpensive. For an adult over 16 years old, a regular 35-page passport already costs £85.00 in person or £75.50 online, and a 50-page frequent traveller passport costs £95 in person or £85.50 online. Prices will very likely go up if private companies are given control over the passport with only their shareholders being responsible for holding them accountable. The Pros and Cons of Privatisation There have been arguments that have supported privatisation since the beginning of time, as well as views that have been clearly against it. Generally speaking, the main reason to justify the process of privatisation is that it increases efficiency, incentivising profit-driven businesses to reduce expenses and increase productivity. On the other hand, government-run businesses typically do not receive profit sharing. A private company more likely to reduce expenses and be effective because it is motivated by making a profit. Historically though, there have been many disadvantages as well that have come from privatisation. One prominent trend that seems to occur is that government funding of public services is usually reduced often to the detriment of the functionality of the service, and then the assets and services are passed onto private companies thereafter. For certain assets, there is a competitive model that comes into play which means that privatising such an industry would only create a private monopoly with higher prices for consumers rather than the need of nominalisation. Furthermore, privatisation often benefits at most, the individuals at the top of the hierarchy and as such, much of the money hoarded at the top rarely returns to the public purse. In Conclusion It is undeniable that in the UK, historically speaking, there have been countless benefits stemming from the privatisation of certain public sectors. However, after many years of mismanagement and misplaced values the practice has generated problems that deeply affect the public wealth and the wellbeing of the state. The Ofgem case and the consistent surges in prices of privatised services go to show that these companies have not been regulated appropriately by the designated bodies. As such, a fair and effective regulatory system is one way we can develop a framework that promotes a more balanced approach, with priority’s moving away from profit first and more towards the public and planets interests. Furthermore, It could be said that it would be more in the interest of the public if certain sectors are in some capacity reserved for the enrichment of the collective such as basic housing, natural resources, healthcare and even education. Similar: UK Supermarkets Threaten to Boycott Brazil Exports Over Privatisation of Amazon Rainforest We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • An Understanding of Anxiety

    Euan Cook summarises the science behind anxiety disorders, the potential causes, and what we can do to help improve our mental health. Photo by Adrian Swancar Anxiety is what individuals feel when they’re worried, tense, or afraid, and the symptoms can present themselves differently from person to person. Someone who is suffering from anxiety may feel inclined to avoid a wide variety of situations. In the US, 31.1% of the population experience anxiety in their lifetime; in the UK, only 4.7% have anxiety problems, with as many as 9.7% suffering from a combination of depression and anxiety, proving that this issue is not simple or singular. Social Media and Societal Pressure Dr. Susan Whitfield-Gabrieli states that about half of diagnosable mental health disorders start by age 14. Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, affects both men and women equally: a total of about 15 million US adults. Whilst generalised anxiety disorder affects nearly 7 million US adults, it is twice as common in cisgendered woman as in men. Geo-societal situations like the cost-of-living crisis, cultural trends in fashion and lifestyle, and the political and humanitarian crisis in the Middle East or the Russian invasion of Ukraine are all factors that can worsen anxiety disorders. However, the relatively new digital age the Western world has entered is a leading cause of wanting to ‘fit in’ and, ultimately, anxiety disorder. Social media has been the focus of a lot of research surrounding the acceleration of anxiety disorder in young adults. Some estimates suggest that there are 3 billion active monthly users of social media. Consequent addiction is thought to affect 5% of the younger generation, and has been described as more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes. A users’ ‘obsession’ could be linked to instant gratification and dopamine production. For example: the number of ‘likes’ could lead to negative self-reflection. The continual ‘refreshing’ of the page is symptomatic of an continual desire for personal validation. Symptoms of Anxiety Anxiety can be a general sense or feeling which can become crippling for some, and at its worst it can be mistaken for a heart attack since they have very similar symptoms. Although anxiety can be harmless in the short term, it can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, substance dependency, and depression. The symptoms of anxiety can be unique to each individual, but here are some of the more common symptoms: a churning feeling in your stomach or IBS feeling restless or unable to sit still headaches, backache or other aches and pains faster breathing a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat sleep problems nausea (feeling sick) having panic attacks and catastrophising The Central Nervous System To understand the science behind anxiety, its worth understanding the central nervous system, which is where we process many of our emotions and situations. The Sympathetic Nervous System: on an evolutionary level, anxiety is the feeling that stems from our ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. Certain hormones and chemicals are released, such as adrenaline and cortisol, from the endoctrine system, which accelerate our heart beat and makes us feel more alert; this directs blood to the organs and muscles required to help us react to a perceived danger. Parasympathetic Nervous System: this nervous system is often referred to as the ‘rest and digest’ system, functioning to conserve the body’s natural activity. Once an emergency has passed, there is a decreased arousal on areas such as the eyes, saliva glands, stomach and bladder nerves, and blood vessels. The key component to regulate the parasympathetic nervous system is the vagus nerve. The Vagus Nerve: an increase in the ‘vagal tone’ activates the parasympathetic nervous system, meaning we can relax quickly after an emergency. However, most anxiety sufferers experience persistent symptoms due to their vagal tone not being effectively stimulated. Our overall mental health, biological sex, and coping skills are critical factors in our susceptibility to developing anxiety; for some, this is rooted in unresolved past traumas or insecurities in early life and relationships. If you develop anxiety of this nature, a PTSD diagnosis may follow if one experiences flashbacks or nightmares about a specific traumatic event or a longer series of trauma. When unregulated, the nervous system can develop ‘triggers’ for anxiety sufferers, which can be similar to PTSD. After a traumatic event, these triggers may be activated and can cause someone to potentially experience various symptoms, leading to a panic attack. Panic attacks are one of the leading consequences of anxiety disorders, exaggerating your body’s normal response to danger, stress or excitement, and can last between 5 and 20 minutes. If someone has experienced trauma in their lives, our nervous system can become unregulated and could take some time to re-balance. Techniques to Help Tackle Anxiety There are three main ways which can help battle anxiety involving how you regulate your body and your thought processes: Breathing exercises can help manage anxiety and make you feel a lot calmer. Gently breathe through your nose and mouth at a regular pace. At the same time, slowly tense then relax the muscles in your body from your toes to your head. Physical exercises can achieve the same effects. For example: going for a walk, trying yoga or going for a run can help relieve built up tension, lighten those thoughts and practice being in the present. Diary keeping every time you feel anxious or have a panic attack can help spot triggers of these experiences. This certainly helps people feel more in control of their anxiety. Bonus tip: If possible, surround yourself around positive, non-toxic people, whilst ensuring that your environment is one that is safe and nurturing for you. Being in nature has been scientifically proven to be great for your mental health If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, it is worthwhile to seek professional support to discuss these issues. There's a lot of support and proven-to-work therapy such as CBT available for those who need it. For more information try calling Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Samaritans can be contacted for free at 116 123, or by emailing jo@samaritans.org. More advice on anxiety can be found on the NHS website. Similar: Understanding of Borderline Personality Disorder We're a not-for-profit initiative advocating for those topics that matter, whilst supporting socio-ethical impact and acknowledgement. Support our projects and journalism by becoming a member from just £1.

  • Water Companies Released Raw Sewage Into Waterways in 2021

    Jenny Donath reports on data revealing the adverse impact of raw sewage discharged into England’s waters. Photo by Jakob Owens The government has released data showing that water companies have been regularly discharging massive amounts of raw sewage into England’s bodies of water. Water companies admitted to doing this roughly 1,000 times a day in 2021; that is around 372,000 times and 2.6 million hours in total. According to the Environment Agency (EA), it is only permitted during heavy rainfall to prevent floodings of living areas and streets. Releasing raw sewage too often affects the water quality and has a negative impact on the environment. However, water companies do it more often to relieve pressure on the pipes. In addition, increased extreme weather conditions, a growth in population and England’s antiquated infrastructure have also contributed to the frequent discharges last year. The chief executive of EA, Sir James Bevan, said that water firms had to “act now to reduce their overflows to the minimum possible.” In 2020 alone, there have been over 400,000 discharges of sewage into England’s waters. This is a 27% increase compared to 2019. As Dr Richard Benwall, who is part of the Wildlife Countryside Link, a network of environment groups, commented, “These figures show another year of our waterways being choked by sewage pollution. This must change.” Regularly discharging sewage via storm flows heavily pollutes the rivers and seas, creating a health risk for the public when swimming in designated bathing waters. It is also a threat to the biodiversity, as the pollution compromises the natural habitats of wildlife and plant life. The River Trust has provided an interactive map that monitors discharges in real-time. It shows water locations across England and Wales and the number of hours and the amount of storm overflow spillages in 2021. In those locations in which fewer spillages have occurred, the state of the local water is cleaner. Their campaign, ‘Together for Rivers’, is supposed to raise awareness of the current issue and make sewage pollution data accessible to the public. Their goal is to achieve cleaner designated bathing waters. They have achieved this in Ilkley so far, where the local river has received safe bathing water status – the first one in England. If more rivers, or waters in general, would receive such status, it would provide not only safe bathing places for the public, but also improve the natural habitat for wildlife. Storm Overflowers Discharge Reduction Plan To tackle this issue, the government has come up with the ‘Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan’, aiming to overhaul the old sewer system and minimise discharges of raw sewage into seas and rivers. On 31st March 2022, the government released a press statement promising to impose strict limits on the use of storm overflows and additional monitoring measures to better restrict its usage. Furthermore, the sewer networks of all water companies should be mapped out to eliminate any ecological and public harm. The Environment Act from 2021 states that a new monitoring and reporting framework will give the Water Services Regulation Authority and the Environment Agency the possibility to act against water companies that do not meet the newly imposed expectations. “We are the first government to set out our expectation that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. Today, we are setting specific targets to ensure that those storm overflows are used only in exceptional circumstances – delivering on our Environment Act and building on wider work on water quality.” – George Eustice, Environment Secretary Between 2020 and 2025, £7.1 billion will be invested by water companies to ensure improvement and protection of the environment: £3.1 billion will be used directly for the improvement of the storm overflow, including £1.9 billion for the Thames Tideway Tunnel super sewer. Water companies are expected to publish real-time information about their storm flow discharges so that their frequency can be monitored. Furthermore, they must come up with a plan on how to develop their drainage and sewer system in a ‘Drainage and Sewage Management Plan’. Long Term Goals of the Reduction Plan The reduction plan aims to completely eliminate any harmful effects on the environment from storm overflows. By 2035, the government hopes that storm flows shall no longer impact human health. They intend to have 70% fewer raw sewage discharges into bathing waters, removing all pathogens — organisms found in sewage that cause diseases — from sewages that are discharged into designated bathing waters. This can be achieved by applying disinfection, such as ultraviolet radiation; heavier screening controls can be used to separate persistent inorganic material like faeces and organic solids before discharge. 75% of all storm flows must no longer be discharged either in or near water sites that are of high priority. High priority sites include eutrophic sensitive areas, chalk streams, conservation areas (SAC), and water places that are currently over-polluted by storm flows and therefore fail to meet the ecological standard. By 2045, 100% of all those sites must be free from storm flow discharges. By 2050, all remaining stormflows affecting various other bodies of water must be eliminated, so that the ecology is no longer impacted by them. The ultimate goal is for all bodies of water to have ‘good ecological status’ so as to protect local biodiversity. After 2050, storm flows should only be used during extreme weather circumstances, like extraordinary heavy rainfall. However, the number of discharges should not exceed ten rainfall events per year. “The Environment Agency will continue to work with government, the water industry, the other regulators and the NGOs to ensure we have healthier sewers, cleaner rivers and a better environment for all.” – Sir James Bevan Similar: The Unspoken Impact of Noise Pollution We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Downgrading of Democracy: The Police, Crimes & Sentencing Bill

    Ziryan Aziz reports on how the government’s new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will shape our right to protest. Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona The House of Lords has now passed the government’s most controversial proposals in its policing bill, after a final 3rd reading. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has been floating in and out of Parliament since March 2021, though it was struck down by the House of Lords in January 2022 after a debate on protesting rights. In the vote held in late March 2022, Peers voted in favour of two alterations they had previously made: removing noise as a criterion for disbanding a protest, and proposing police powers to restrict one-person demonstrations. The bill was in a procession of ‘ping-pong’, where it bounced back between the Commons and the Lords. MPs continued to reject the lord’s amendments, which target the bill’s more controversial policies, whilst Peers continue to accept their own altercations. On the 26th April the bill finally passed through the Lords, and is now law. What is the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill? The bill is a flagship piece of legislation that Home Secretary, Priti Patel, alongside other key government backers have pushed through Parliament. It made headlines in November 2021, when the Home Secretary came under fire for adding an additional 18 pages of amendments to the final draft, after it had already passed through Parliament. The move was criticised as anti-democratic, both from within the opposition and public organisations who have expressed grievances with some of its contents. Overall, the bill aims to overhaul the criminal justice system, with a raft of changes to how certain crimes are punished, introducing new laws and penalties, and strengthening the powers of the police force. The bill has been praised for the introduction of new offences, such as making it illegal to film someone breastfeeding without consent, increased jail sentences for assault on emergency workers, and potential life sentences for child murderers. The bill will also address a lack of police powers with regard to monitoring suspected terrorists, and the ability of the police forces to share data with councils and other local bodies. However, what’s caught the attention of former Prime Ministers, police chiefs, and civil liberty organisations, is specific changes to the right to protest in the UK, with the potential to impact British democracy and citizen rights. Why is the Bill Controversial? The controversy surrounding the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is centred on multiple core components. Some that have gained the most attention include: Police are to be given powers to prevent or disband any protest if it is considered “too noisy”, and/or a “public nuisance”. The responsibility of this decision is squarely on the shoulder of the police officers at the scene, who will need to provide their subjective judgement. Under previous UK legislation, police would need to prove that a protest may cause “serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community” before putting any restrictions. The bill would have also introduced a number of new protests related offences, including a parole process for those encouraging others via social media to attend a protest deemed potentially “likely to result in serious disruption”. Police would no longer have a duty to inform protests if they are breaking a police-enforced condition on a protest, and “It will be possible for anyone to receive a criminal conviction for breaching a police condition placed on a protest despite having no knowledge of it,” according to the Friends of the Earth. Organisers of a protest, where police conditions have been breached can also serve time in prison. New rules would have seen protesters receiving jail sentences of up to 6 months and an unlimited fine for “locking on”. The protest method has been popularised recently by groups such as Extinction Rebellion, and Insulate Britain, whereby protestors chain or tie themselves to immovable objects. The protesting tactic has extensively been used in protest movements across the ages, famously by the Suffragettes. Police would be given the powers to stop and search any protester, without suspicion of having committed an offence. Under current UK law, a police officer can only stop and search an individual without suspicion using a Section 60, which is only authorised under certain conditions and restricted to a 24-hour time limit. The new powers imposed in the government’s bill could see anyone who resists a search with up to 51 weeks in jail. Police are to be given the power to stop and search a vehicle if they suspect they’re on their way to a protest, including if they are carrying protest materials (e.g., banners, placards.) The government will introduce changes to the Public Order Act 1994, giving police greater powers to remove and punish vehicles temporarily residing on private land. Whilst the move is welcomed by some, the law specifically focuses on the Gypsy, Traveller, and Roma community, and many within the community feel that this is a direct attack on their right to a nomadic lifestyle. The Reaction The reaction to the government’s new legislation has been mixed. From within the police force, the Police Federation of England and Wales has welcomed the bill, however this view is not universally shared. Leaders from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, a body that overlooks policing practice and policy, have openly criticised the bill as having gone “too far”, stating that “…When you make these laws, you can’t pick laws for the protests you like and don’t like.” Michael Barton, the former chief constable of Durham, has warned that Britain is moving towards ‘Paramilitary Policing’. In an open letter to Priti Patel, senior police leaders, such as the former deputy assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Lord Paddick, and former Met superintendent, Leroy Logan, expressed their concerns that the new bill could undermine police trust, and “exacerbate” violence. Commenting on the new stop and search powers, they stated: “As experts on police use of force, racial profiling, and stop and search, we believe that this Bill has dangerous implications for the fight against serious violence, an issue that demands police work in service to, not against, the communities facing its harms.” Outside of policing, more than 700 legal scholars and 350 charities have called for the bill to be scrapped, including Sacha Deshmukh, the CEO of Amnesty International UK, who compared the government’s plans to those used in Russia, Hong Kong and Belarus. Faith leaders have raised their concerns on what the bill will mean for those who will be subject to increased profiling. Both the Bishop of Manchester and Gloucester have spoken in the House of Lords on the bill’s proposed restrictions on travelling communities, and life sentences on young offenders. Politicians such as former Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken up in defiance of the government plans, stating she would “urge the government to consider carefully the need to walk a fine line between being popular and populist.” What Happens Next? As the bill is now an act of parliament, it is officially law. It will be difficult to predict the extent upon which police will act on these new powers, and legal challenges to the government could be expected. The British public will need to reach a consensus on what value the right to protest has in modern Britain. Much like the discourse around free-speech, this bill signifies a shift in the government consensus away from traditional British values, placing a greater emphasis on security. In light of Matt Hancock breaking lock down rules in June 2021, the home secretary has already introduced a law which can dish out a 14 year jail sentence to journalists who handle leaked government materials. It seems the question of what happens next is very much an open one. Similar: Restrictions on Protests are Undermining Democracy We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Covid Recovery – New EU Taxes to Repay Recovery Fund

    Aimee Jones reports on how EU member states have responded to three new taxes to help repay funds borrowed during the Covid-19 pandemic and whether they are efficient enough. Photo by Gayatri Malhotra Covid-19 was at the forefront of our day-to-day lives. The events of recent years have caused governments worldwide to be in desperate need of funds to help support the country throughout the pandemic. Sufficient funds were required for the furlough schemes, grants for struggling businesses, and to support the Covid-19 vaccination research and distribution program. However, now that things are slowly returning to a state of normality, governments are assessing how they can repay the €800 billion euros that was borrowed during the pandemic. The European Commission have proposed three new taxes in order to help repay these collective debts. The Taxes The first tax to be introduced is a legal seizure under a brand-new carbon market. They will continue to use the European Union's existing trading system for carbon in order to help them impose CO2 costs on ships and increase the payments that come from various airlines. This came under scrutiny from some member states, such as Poland, who state that by increasing the carbon prices, household bills will also increase. Despite these claims, it is estimated that the pros, outweigh the cons, as this new tax is estimated to provide 12 billion euros on average each year from 2026 to 2030. The second proposed tax was to impose carbon costs on the importation of goods from countries that have weaker CO2 emission standards. From this tax, three-quarters of the money will go towards the EU budget and is estimated to provide 1 billion euros per year. This strategy is a key aspect of preventing businesses from transferring production outside of the EU, to countries with more laid-back climate rules, often referred to as carbon “leakage”, which may have a disproportionate impact on developing countries. As a result of carbon leakage, some countries may refuse to accept these proposed tax changes. It is possible to make things more evenly distributed, for example, the CAMB could impose tariffs or taxes on the imports of such products (iron, steel, cement, aluminium, electricity and fertilisers) rather than being used as a protectionist measure which will keep such goods out of developing countries in particular. The last new tax to be proposed is to give 15% of residual profits from multinational companies to the EU Covid-19 recovery fund. Residual profits refer to any profits that are left after the company has paid all of its capitol bills. This could potentially offer between 2.5 billion euros to 4 billion euros per year. What Happens Next? The first steps toward this new tax proposal were made earlier in 2021. It was expected that all 27 member states would agree with one another regarding the finer details of the proposal within the first 6 months, although some capitals had some concerns. Countries, such as Hungry and Estonia, voiced their concerns around the new percentage for corporate taxes. All countries have various levels of funds available to them, with some far better off than others. Paolo Gentiloni, a commissioner for the economy, explained that this was not replacing tax competition. Instead, Gentiloni stated that each country would still have different levels of corporation taxation, which was to be seen as a ‘ceiling, a limit, to the race to the bottom.’ It is understandable that changes need to take place in order to help repay the borrowed Covid-19 funds. But are these changes sufficient? Currently, the total amount owed by member states is approximately €800 billion euros, which is estimated to be fully repaid by 2058. Therefore, it is clear that more efficient taxation on importation, carbon leakage, and multinational companies must be implemented soon so that the financial damage of the pandemic can remain in the past. Similar: European Union Fails To Take Climate Emergency Seriously We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Koalas Listed as Endangered Species

    Jonny Rogers reports on the shocking decline of koala populations in Australia and how scientists, activists and local authorities are working to turn the tide. Photo by Valeriia Miller Koalas have been formally listed as an endangered species in three states, inviting activists and politicians alike to take urgent action in protecting this icon of Australian culture and ecology. In 2020, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Humane Society International and WWF-Australia submitted a proposal to recognise the marsupial as an endangered species to the federal Threatened Species Scientific Committee. The decision, made in February this year, means that koala populations in Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory are now formally classified as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) 1999. “This decision is a double-edged sword. We should never have allowed things to get to the point where we are at risk of losing a national icon. If we can’t protect an iconic species endemic to Australia, what chance do lesser known but no less important species have?” – Josey Sharrad, IFAW Wildlife Campaign Manager. A Sharp Decline The proposal to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee cited strong scientific evidence from Biolink, who reported that Queensland’s koala population has halved since the beginning of the century, with nearly 62% of the population in New South Wales declining in the same period. This devastation is consequent to a variety of factors, including prolonged drought, bushfires, diseases, urbanisation and habitat loss. Over the past few years, Australia has witnessed the devasting ecological impact of climate change-related extreme weather events. An estimated three billion animals were either killed or displaced during the 2019-2020 bushfires, including 2.46bn reptiles, 180m birds, 143m mammals and 51m frogs – and thousands of koalas. In late 2020, after a heatwave left the ground completely dry, another wildfire – most likely started by an illegal campfire – tore through Fraser Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest sand island. Even if creatures are not directly killed by these fires, such events can have a long-lasting impact, destroying habitats and reducing both the quality and quantity of the resources necessary for the survival and flourishing of native wildlife. “The bushfires were the final straw. This must be a wake-up call to Australia and the government to move much faster to protect critical habitat from development and land-clearing and seriously address the impacts of climate change.” – Josey Sharrad. Funding, Conservation and Cryopreservation While the formal change in conservation status both affords assurance to committed eco-activists and promises a wake-up call for many others, it must be partnered with a holistic revolution in how the Australian population relates to and manages its environment. Thankfully, some have already begun to take action. In January, it was announced that funds to protect, conserve and recover koala populations would increase by $50m over 4 years, in addition to the $18m conservation package announced in 2020. This investment includes $20m in grants for large recovery projects, $10m to extend the National Koala Monitoring Program, $10m in grants for small-scale community projects, £2m in grants to improve Koala health through applied research, and £1m to expand the national training program in Koala care. Researchers from the University of Newcastle have suggested that ‘biobanking’ – the practise of using IVF technology to freeze koala sperm – might be essential in recovering the declining populations; a strategy that is, they claim, significantly cheaper than breeding captive koalas. In addition, 54 hectares of land have been transferred to the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service for the creation of a new koala reserve in west Sydney, designed both to boost their habitat and facilitate wildlife movement across the state. While these decisions and strategies might offer hope, the urgency of the situation cannot be unstated; little will be achieved if this research is not applied, if these grants are not fulfilled or if these promises are not delivered. As Alexia Wellbelove, Senior Campaign Manager for Humane Society International, reminds us: “This uplisting is an urgent cue for governments to take a stand against the continued clearing of koala habitat. If business as usual continues, extinction is predicted for east coast koalas by 2050” - Alexia Wellbelove, Human Society International. Similar: Conservation Victory: Giant Pandas No Longer Endangered We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Education: Home Schooling Increases by 75%

    Jenny Donath reports on new research which shows that home education is becoming more and more popular. Photo by Ketut Subiyanto More and more parents have taken their children electively out of school and have decided on home schooling as an alternative approach to education. According to BBC’s research across 153 out of 205 councils in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, there has been a 75.6% increase in home schooling within the first eight months of the 2020-2021 academic year. In north-west England, there has been a rise as high as 92%. In total, 40,000 pupils have been taken out of school during that time; this is a drastic change compared to the 23,000 pupils in the two previous years. Reasons for Home Education There are various reasons why parents might choose home education for their children. Some of those could be religious, ideological or philosophical viewpoints, dissatisfaction with the school system, or bullying of the child in a school setting. Varying educational needs and physical and mental health reasons are also playing a big factor. For instance, parents of children with asthma or an autism diagnosis figured that home-education might be more suitable, as there had been difficulties with providing special needs support at school. A father living near Hull took all his children out of school in March 2020 as one of his children has autism. He claimed: “I think we had reached the limit of what we could do in the structure. [...] From the experience we are having, I’d be hard pressed to think about going back.” Several children who have electively been taken out of school seem to be thriving in the safety of their own homes and feel better supported and more comfortable in the new learning environment. However, other parents warned that there are also downsides to home-education. Victoria, a mother of an 11-year-girl in Peterborough, warned that parents should carefully think about whether it is the correct choice for their children. She took her daughter out of school due to the school’s unwillingness and inability to accommodate to her daughter’s ADHD and Asperger syndrome. She said, “It’s not easy. You’re talking about being with your child 24/7. Other than groups she goes to and the tutoring she has. The rest of it is down to the parent — it’s up to you to organise all that and to pay for it. You have to know what you’re taking on.” The Department of Education The Department of Education have shown concerns about the rise in numbers and whether educational approaches at home were appropriate. A registration system has been suggested to means of keeping track of home educated children by checking up on them at least once a year and by providing guidelines and accessible online tools to support the education at home. “We can only support children’s education and safeguard the children who are known to us,” said Gail Tolley, the chair of the ACDS educational achievement policy committee. However, parents are currently not obligated to register their child. The Department of Education have emphasised that the move to home education should be carefully evaluated: “Although many parents provide a good standard of education, home education is never a decision that should be entered lightly. Now more than ever, it is absolutely vital that any decision to home-educate is made with the child’s interests at the forefront of parent’s minds.” Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union NAHT, has observed that home schooling increased following the Covid-19 pandemic. He believes that many parents feared that schools would not provide a safe place for students despite the decision of the Department of Education to introduce regular Covid testing and putting students into bubbles. “Many appear to have chosen home education because they have lost faith in the government’s approach to school safety during the pandemic” – Paul Whiteman While several regions had seen a rise of at least 50% in home education, five areas have especially stood out: Hounslow, which has seen the biggest rise of home schooled children, followed by Barnet, Nottingham, Blackburn-with Darwen, and Warrington. In those areas, almost five times as many students had been taken out of school compared to the previous academic years. Home Education During the Pandemic During the Covid-19 pandemic, an Opinion and Lifestyle Survey was undertaken to analyse parent’s and pupils’ experiences with home education (between the ages of 5-18). The survey assessed that a home-schooled pupil’s learning ability, their focus on their schoolwork at home, and usage of provided resources have been dependent on age and occasionally whether one or two parents were part of the household. For instance, the older the child was, the more time they spent studying or referred to interactive online learning resources as a beneficial way to educate themselves. Children between 16 and 18 years old were also more concerned whether home-schooling negatively affected their future life plans. The survey looked at two different times frames, the first month of the first lockdown from beginning of April to 6 May, and from 7 May until 7 June 2020. Since most parents were forced into home-schooling due to the imposed lockdown guidelines, only 49% felt strongly or somewhat confident in their home-schooling abilities. 34% of women and 20% of men claimed that home schooling was negatively affecting their wellbeing; 43% of parents agreed that it negatively affected their children’s wellbeing. Furthermore, 52% of parents said that a child in their household was struggling to continue their schoolwork effectively at home; 77% of those stated that their children mainly struggled with their education because they were lacking motivation. Lack of guidance and support was another reason for their struggle, with the number as high as 43%. Nevertheless, although many parents were put into that situation because of the pandemic, more and more parents see advantages in opting for home education. Paul Whiteman has called on the government to “find out the reasons behind so many more families choosing home education.” It is more important now than ever to ensure that those families have all the support they need; and to promote and foster constructive discussions about how the government might restore the faith many parents have lost in the school system. Similar: Child Development: The Impact of the Pandemic We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Study Links Fashion Brands to Deforestation

    Aimee Jones reports on the role of fashion brands in the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest and what we, as consumers, can do to limit damage to the environment. Photo by Peter Plashkin Between August 2020 and July 2021, the Amazon Rainforest lost approximately 10,476 square kilometres to deforestation: the destruction of forest areas in service of agricultural croplands, mining activities, and urbanisation. This equates to an area almost seven times bigger than London and is more than 57% higher than the previous year's figures, proving that deforestation is on the rise. Since the 1960s, deforestation has increased because of human activities, such as supplying materials to the fashion industries. Recent studies have investigated some of the world's most complex global supply chains as the perpetrators of this increase. A large number of fashion brands are contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest based on their connections to various other companies involved in the trading of leather goods. What is a supply chain? Trading is an essential element in a supply chain. As a long process, where various companies are involved in the creation of the final product, a link of activities are required by the seller to enable them to deliver goods and services to the consumer. Ultimately, it is the process in which raw materials are converted into their final state, which is unfortunately desirable at the cost of the natural environment. JBS, specifically, has been linked to the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest, as brands are exclusively dependent on their services within the supply chain. One of the main activities that JBS have been known for is using cattle supplied from a farm in the Brazilian Amazon, which is under sanction for illegal deforestation. 45% of forest area was lost because of the cattle industry in Brazil, equating to 21.8 million hectares between 2001 and 2015. Moreover, it has been found that over 50 big brands, such as Nike, Dr Martens, H&M, Zara, and New Balance, have multiple supply chain links to Brazilian leather exporters and the meat supplier, JBS. 22 out of 74 companies are even breaching their own policies when it comes to sourcing leather from deforestation. Shockingly, two-thirds of the companies in question did not have any policies in place regarding deforestation, underlying a wider issue which is endemic to corporations unwilling to adapt to eco-friendly operations. Limiting the Scope of Deforestation Fortunately, JBS has promised to eliminate illegal deforestation in other Brazilian biomes by the year 2030 and eradicate deforestation across their entire supply chain in five years’ time. But is this enough? Many believe that their goal is insufficient, as it is set 8 to 13 years from now - a wide ballpark for further environmental damage – not to mention their initial statement condemns illegal deforestation exclusively, which is far from a complete reprehension of the practice. To fight back, Sara Slavikova summaries various ways that we can help to reduce and prevent deforestation: Plant more trees Recycle (especially paper and cardboard) and use more recycled goods Avoid buying products which contain palm oil Support organisations that are fighting deforestation Reduce meat consumption If we, as consumers, wish to limit the scope of deforestation, these are examples of eco-conscious lifestyle changes that should certainly be prioritised in our battle to protect the environment. Similar: Global Forest Regrowth: 58.9m Hectares in 20 Years We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • The Cost of Living Crisis in the UK

    Mary Jane Amato reports on the current cost of living crisis in the UK, what support the government is providing, and how the country can evade a poverty crisis altogether. Photo by Timur Weber In the last few months, the UK is seemingly heading towards one of the most catastrophic economic moments of recent history, and this is probably just the tip of the iceberg. The country is facing a heinous financial crisis that will most certainly lead to an increasingly severe recession, with the real risk of driving a vast section of the population into poverty. How did we get here? The road to such a dire situation has been complex and lengthy. Starting with the country massively readjusting from the impacting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic to the rising inflation, made worse by the ongoing war in Ukraine, Britain's economy has taken some significant blows. What’s more, Brexit also has a role to play in the disruption of trade, further adding fuel to the fire. Presently, inflation is at its highest rate in thirty years, with the consumer price index (CPI) projected to rise by 7% in April 2022 if spiralling heating costs are not capped. A brief explanation of why this has happened can be given by analysing the post-Covid economy reopening. According to some economists, such an increase will remain high for quite some time. This soaring rate is consequential to the renewed demand for goods and services post-lockdown and the global trades impacted by the supply chain disruption, caused by multiple national lockdowns. These slowed down or even temporarily interrupted the circulation of raw materials, stalling the manufacturing process. Furthermore, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised the CPI expectation from 7.25% to 8%, and possibly higher later in the year. With Russia being one of the largest producers and exporters of oil and gas and a crucial gas supplier to the EU countries, the oil prices have peaked at $100 per barrel, which is the highest rate since 2014. The overall gas price increase has also affected the cost of UK natural gas, influencing a rise in petrol and energy fees and constituting a continuous restrain of global and UK activity growth. What is the Current Situation Looking Like? UK households currently face a 54% price cap on bills reflecting the soaring wholesale gas prices, and a new price cap increase is expected in October. The results of these increases mean that within the year, bills are going to be doubling, leaving the poorest households in a deplorable state, where they might be forced to choose between heating their homes or being able to put food on the table. Citizen Advice has warned that many people will be unable to pay their energy bills across the UK, and that figure stands at around a shocking 14 million. The Bank of England expects the inflation to cool at the end of this month, but prices will stay high for much longer. This will determine a decrease in spending power from the lower-income households, resulting in a high risk of recession. In the latest report of the Deutsche Bank, the chief economist Sanjay Raja has stated that the “recession risks remain on the rise as Consumer confidence data are already consistent with recessionary levels.” This trend will most likely rebound after June, but it will eventually flatline by the end of the year due to an ulterior price rise in energy bills in October. Another point to consider is last year's tax increase, which has been the greatest since 1993, with an increment of 1.25% in National Insurance contributions at the start of April. In addition to this, a health and social care levy will take place in 2023, and the income tax personal allowance will be frozen for four years from now. The above situation is likely to determine the impossibility of wages to mitigate the effect of such high-cost rises. Moreover, rent costs are rising at the fastest rate known so far. With an increase of 8.6% as of February 2022, they mark a stark difference from the 2% increase of 2021. This makes private renting in England for the lowest-earning people and women on an average salary impossible. Mortgages base interest rates will also be subject to an increase, making repayments more expensive. The poorer households will be hit much harder than the higher-income ones, and this is also because those that receive benefits from the government in the form of working-age benefits or pensions will see the inflation rates soar. Another issue will be the changes to Universal Credit which have sustained a decrease of £20 a week due to the pandemic, with those who do not work at all losing their entire Covid advance. On the other hand, changes are being operated to personal taxes in 2022/23, making it possible for those earning less than £25.000 a year to pay less income tax and NICs, while those earning above such threshold will pay more. This means the Treasury will raise about £14 billion and most of the cost will be concentrated at the top of the income distribution. Government Support During Unprecedented Times In the face of such impacting cost rises, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has put together a support package targeted primarily at those most in need. This package comprises an Energy Bill Rebate consisting of a £200 discount on bills from October, repayable over the next five years, starting in 2023. This is when it is predicted gas wholesale costs will start lowering. The package also provides a £150 rebate for households in Council Tax band A-D, which will not have to be repaid. This one-off payment is expected to benefit 80% of all homes in England. In addition to the above, there will be £144 million provided to vulnerable people and low-income households who either do not pay Council Tax or are in band E-H. In his Spring Statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak also announced three immediate measures to support people. He stated he would help motorists by cutting fuel duty by 5 pence per litre, with the cut lasting until March next year. Next, he announced that for the next five years, homeowners having materials like solar panels, heat pumps, or insulation installed would no longer pay 5% VAT, making tax savings of around £1.000. And finally, he communicated he wants to do more for vulnerable households by saving the abovementioned £300 on their energy bills. Therefore, he will be doubling the Household Support Fund to £1bn with £500m of new funding, with the Local Authorities receiving this funding from April. Regardless of the above measures put in place to ease the population of the incredible burden this crisis has set upon them, as food campaigner Jack Monroe put it in a Twitter thread, the most vulnerable are the ones that seem to be at the bitter end of all of this. For too many lower-income households, children and disabled people, there is a risk of being trapped in a "never-ending loop of difficulties", which could take them through several issues that stem from the economic crisis but branch out into serious health and wellbeing issues. Monroe has highlighted the unstable situation of millions, stating that if the social security benefits are not levelled up with the increasing inflation, this will be fatal for many. Many have heavily criticised the government for its minimal support package, which will likely have a minimal impact for those who need help the most. What Needs to Happen to Avoid a Poverty Crisis According to UNISON, the largest union of public sector employees in the UK, there must be an increase in the public sector pay and an introduction to emergency measures to support people at a time of enormous financial pressure and rising costs. Without such a plan, workers will not be able to access essential products and services, and subsequentially, the public sector may be starved of skilled staff, and services might be cut off, pushing many over the brink of poverty. UNISON's general secretary, Christina McAnea, has stated that the government seems to be unaware of the enormity of the problems ordinary people face in this dreadful crisis and that it is utterly shameful highly skilled employees do not get paid a decent salary. But the public sector is not the only one that needs to be taken care of. According to the New Economic Foundation, more than 23.5 million people across the UK will be struggling to afford the cost of living this year. A benefit increase of 3.1% will not be able to counteract the inflation rate, which is predicted to hit 8% soon, and £300 total in electric bills and Council Tax rebate is still not enough to help the lower-income households resettle themselves. A substantial rise in benefits will be necessary to mitigate the impact of the dangerously ascending living costs. Steffen Ball, the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, has brought forward this unique situation where the benefits increase of this year is nowhere near the inflation rate surge, and this has never been the case since 1980. The government must at least push the rise to a decent level, sufficient to cover the cost of the crisis for those most in need. Failure to do so will lay the ground for an overall rise in poverty that will affect the country, lowering the spending power and consequentially pushing the UK intoa full-blown recession. Similar: Universal Basic Income System to be Tested in Wales We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Facebook and Google Fined over Cookie Data Methods

    Jenny Donath reports as two of the world’s biggest tech companies are fined for violating data privacy regulations. Photo by Nordwood Themes Every internet user is likely familiar with the little pop-up bars asking them to either accept all cookies, only essential cookies, or refuse cookies. Now, the French administrative regulatory body CNIL has charged Google and Facebook for failing to give their users fair options – imposing fines as high as 210 million euros against the tech conglomerates. Google was fined 150 million euros and Facebook was fined 60 million euros. The regulatory body claimed both companies have violated data privacy regulations; additionally, CNIL claimed that it was an infringement of Article 82 of the French Data Protection Act. The Purpose (and Danger) of Cookies Although every internet user comes across cookies regularly, it is not always clear what they mean. Cookies are little packets that create a data profile for each user; they allow web browsers to store information and then target users with specific adverts to enhance their experience. It must be differentiated between first-party and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are directly placed by the visited website, third-party cookies are placed by advertisers to figure out a user’s interest and then place adverts when a user is browsing the internet —independent from whether the user stays on the original website where they accepted the cookies or leaves it. Those cookies keep track of your browsing history throughout the whole web, e.g. remembering passwords. Cookie pop-ups became a legal requirement in the UK and the EU after tech conglomerates faced wide-spread condemnation for having repeatedly and covertly recorded tracking data of its users for years. However, several websites still make it impossible for users to refuse cookies at all. Instead, users must accept cookies to get access to websites. Given that most users are intending to easily and quickly search for information online, it is more convenient to allow cookies without reading any of the privacy policies. This way, their target websites are only one click away. This breaches fair options of consent, since refusing cookies sometimes takes longer. According to CNIL, this was an unfair presentation and a restricted freedom of choice. Karin Kiefer, CNIL’s head of data protection and sanctions, said, “Rejecting cookies should be as easy as accepting them.” CNIL added, “several clicks are required to refuse all cookies, as opposed to a single one to accept them.” Targeted Advertising For Google and Facebook, cookies are valuable because showing personalised adverts thanks to data storage is their main income source. However, privacy concerns have been raised about what type of information is collected and whether it is well-protected. It should be ensured that hackers cannot easily get hold of private user information. In addition to asking a user to accept cookies, the pop-up bars also refer to their private policies, but hardly anyone ever reads them, as they usually are deliberately formatted with loads of text, jargon, and are harder to read. Companies want to be on the safe side by mentioning them. Joseph Jerome, formerly part of the policy counsel for the Privacy and Data Project at the Centre for Democracy and Technology, said, “Everybody just decided to be better safe than sorry and throw up a banner —with everybody acknowledging it doesn’t accomplish a whole lot.” However, it does not make a difference if users do not read the policies, as research shows. They are left in the dark, nonetheless. It is more important to users to get easy and fast access to the websites. Therefore, having fair consent options is important; having an easy option to refuse cookies altogether could save users any possible trouble. Proper cookie configuration helps to secure cookies. For instance, using session cookies instead of persistent cookies; session cookies expire after the user closes the browser. Therefore, sensitive data has a shorter longevity. Furthermore, cookies should always be encrypted and expire sooner rather than later to avoid easy exposure to hackers. These measures, combined, creates securer data storage. Response from Google and Facebook Google and Facebook responded to CNIL’s imposed fines. A spokesperson for Google said, “People trust us to respect their privacy and keep them safe. We understand our responsibility to protect that trust and are committing to further changes and active work with the CNIL in [the] light of this decision.” Meta also agreed to investigate this issue: “Our cookie consent controls provide people with greater control over their data, including a new settings menu on Facebook and Instagram, where people can revisit and manage their decisions at any time, and we continue to develop and improve these controls.” Facebook and Google have three months to fix those issues and create equal options or face further fines as high as 100,000 euros for every delayed day. The European ePrivacy Directive is planning on releasing a new regulation which generally applies to all countries in the EU to ensure data is secured and confidential in an effort to force these powerful companies to adhere to rules that aim to make the internet space safe for everyone. Similar: The Facebook Whistleblower: Effects of Social Media Condemned We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Sustainability: UK Companies to Disclose Climate Impact

    Jonny Rogers explores how new regulations on financial disclosures for the UK’s largest companies aim to redistribute wealth towards sustainable initiatives. Photo by Alexander Kotlyar On 6th April 2022, the British government enforced mandatory climate-related financial disclosures for the UK’s largest companies. These new regulations require listed companies to provide a clear description of how they identify, assess and manage climate-related risks and opportunities, thereby helping investors better understand their financial vulnerability to the challenges posed by climate change. Marking the first time a G20 country has enshrined recommendations from the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), the new laws are seen as a pivotal move in the transition towards a greener financial system. As Greg Hands, Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, explains: “If the UK is to meet our ambitious net-zero commitments by 2050, we need our thriving financial system, including our largest businesses and investors, to put climate change at the heart of their activities and decision making” - Greg Hands, GOV.UK. The Scope of the New Regulations While companies listed on the London Stock Exchange’s premium segment have been required to declare their climate-related disclosures since December 2020, the new regulations significantly increase their scope. Those included under the new requirements include all UK-registered companies and LLPs (Limited Liability Partnerships) which have more than 500 employees and a turnover exceeding £500m. This accounts for over 1,300 of the largest UK-registered companies and financial institutions. While these mandatory financial disclosures do not require companies to detail the environmental impact of their operations, they still aim to incentivise investment in organisations which can demonstrate greater adaptability to the demands of a rapidly-changing planet. Vice versa, businesses which depend on diminishing natural resources or heavily polluting practises are less likely to receive long-term investment if investors are suitably informed about their investee’s climate-related risks. “To meet our ambitions to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change and tackle biodiversity loss, we need to realign the way our economy interacts with the natural environment.” – George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Roadmap to Green Finance In September 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report, consolidating the latest scientific evidence on climate change. Without large-scale reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the global temperature will continue to rise, and the atmosphere will become increasingly hostile to the flourishing of both human and non-human life. In the lead up to COP26, hosted in Glasgow last November, the UK declared their intentions to become a world leader in mitigating the impact of climate change - including a plan to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, on top of plans to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. As stated in the government’s Roadmap to Sustainable Investing (published in October 2021), the demands of the IPCC report will not be achieved without the prioritisation of sustainable investment: “The financial system is […] critical to achieving net zero and protecting the UK’s natural environment.” Shortcomings and Opportunities Nevertheless, mandatory climate-related financial disclosures will not alone redeem a broken economy. The new regulations, for example, only have power over UK-registered companies, and thus hold no accountability for those looking to invest wealth abroad; and there is no legal penalty for investors choosing to invest in unsustainable companies with full knowledge of potential or likely ecological consequences. However, while every individual arguably has an obligation to align their lifestyle and patterns of consumption with the interests of the planet and its inhabitants, it cannot be ignored that environmental responsibility is disproportionally congregated around wealth; the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report, published in 2020, found that the richest 1% of the global population are responsible for over double the quantity of carbon emissions than the poorest 50%. As such, any legislation that aims to shift the flow of wealth towards sustainable initiatives should be welcomed; not as a scapegoat for environmental accountability, but as a blueprint – or perhaps a greenprint – for how governments can incentivise ethical and sustainable investment. Similar: Conscious Investing: New Finance is Supporting Sustainability We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • Donations to Charities Down Despite the Rich Earning More

    Euan Cook reports on why affluent donors are donating smaller proportions of their annual incomes to charity. Photo by Rondnae Productions Donations from the UK’s top earners dropped by 21% in the last decade, despite the average annual income rising by 10% during the same period. With charities missing out on more than £2 billion from a widening “generosity gap”, are the rich becoming stingier? Giving to charities has increased from £14.8 billion in 2011/12 to £19.6 billion in 2018/19. This is fantastic news on the surface. However, there may be an underlying issue with how this wealth is distributed. The Truth About Donations The UK’s richest 1,700 people made close to two-thirds of the donations made by the 1%, typically donating 0.21% of their income. Annual incomes around £187,000 typically declare donations of £33 per month. With those whose annual incomes average at £722,000, the typical donation rises to £113 a month: just 0.16% of their income. However, donations across the whole population in 2019 amounted to about £20 a month, roughly 0.80% of the average income. It is clear, then, that the lower the average annual income in the UK, the greater the portion of an individual’s salary they are willing to donate. To help close this “generosity gap”, Lord Gus O’Donnell has offered a solution: “The Commission is calling for a collaborative effort between philanthropists, the government, business, and the charity sector to help close this gap. […] At a local level, the nomination of Philanthropy Champions working with Metro Mayors could help to ensure philanthropy is directed to the communities that need it the most” – Lord Gus O’Donnell, Pro Bono Economics Ultimately, the commission floated the idea of a philanthropy commissioner last October, urging the government to create a funding pot to run civil society infrastructure pilots. Yet is this enough to solve the emerging crisis brewing in less affluent communities? The UK Winter Crisis The UK’s most vulnerable have faced dire living arrangements this winter, with one in 10 UK families — around 3 million households — being unable to cover the cost of food and heating. 400,000 households have been left with just £50 a month after paying bills, offering little room for a comfortable lifestyle. Last January, the UK government finally offered adjustments to the universal credit taper rate, promising 2 million families an extra £1,000 a year to live off. This money, a government spokesperson has said, will become “available through our new £500 million support fund” that pledges to support those who have suffered on low incomes. Considering that the country’s poorest rely heavily on charities for support, it is important to emphasise that the steady decline of donations is not endemic to the UK. Charity Across the Pond In the US, income inequality is at a 50-year high. Consequently, American households have reduced their charitable giving by over $15 billion. From 1980 to 2015, households in the top 1% saw their incomes rise by 226%. Comparatively, the bottom 20% saw their incomes grow by 47%. Despite this disparity, the wealthiest Americans contributed approximately 1.3% of their income to charity in 2011, whilst Americans at the base of this income pyramid donated 3.2% of their income. Thus, those in lower-class brackets generally exhibit higher levels of donation generosity. The congressional economic committee found that of the 50 largest donations to public charities, prolific universities received 34. Other donations were trickled down to medical facilities and other fashionable charities, leaving much smaller donations (by less wealthy donors) to services pledged to aid those in poverty. Social-service organisations, such as United Way, the Salvation Army, and Feeding America, received zero of the 50 largest donations. Is it Psychological? For Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, there is an inextricable relationship between wealth and an increase in unethical behaviour: “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything, the rich are way more likely to prioritise their own self-interests above the interests of other people” – Paul Piff, The Atlantic Furthermore, Patrick Rooney concludes that greater exposure to, and identification with, the challenges of basic living requirements create “higher empathy among lower-income donors”. Wealthy households, who reside in homogeneously affluent areas, were less generous than comparably wealthy individuals who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings. Conversely, when two polar opposite income groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthy began to rise and the generosity of the two groups became near identical. Therefore, those who fall into the wealthier bracket are arguably more disconnected from the challenges that lower income living presents. Indeed, the statistics show that although the rich are sympathetic to charities that support those in poverty, they are not empathetic to the cause: they continue to grow more affluent as charitable donations continue to decline across the globe. Similar: Pandora Papers: World Leaders Connected to Offshore Tax-Havens We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

  • A Conscious Approach: The Reframing of Fungi

    Euan Cook reports on the fertile research behind psychedelic treatment and how psilocybin mushrooms could become a significant antidepressant in tackling mental health. Photo by Andre Moura Major depressive disorder affects approximately 10% of the general population in the United Kingdom: approximately 6.7 million people. However, research is edging into a new field of study, one which involves mushrooms as a possible solution to improving mental health. There are over 180 species of mushroom which possess one hallucinogenic compound thought to be valuable in limiting depressive symptoms: psilocybin. Psilocybin occurs naturally in the psychoactive psilocybe genus of mushrooms and targets the serotonin receptor agonism: a primary cog functioning in the complicated pathway implicated with depression. Currently, those who suffer from depression are prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, to monitor the levels of serotonin in one’s body, low levels of which are linked to depression and anxiety. With psychedelic treatment, however, your body breaks psilocybin down into psilocin, a chemical similar to serotonin which induces increased sensory perception, heightened emotions, hallucinations, and even euphoria. Specifically, psilocin targets a part of the brain called the claustrum which is responsible for processing sensory information, playing a significant role in increased emotional processing and, consequently, improving depressive symptoms. The Harris Poll and Public Sentiment One methodology of gauging public opinion on mushrooms is through surveys, the most prominent survey being The Harris Poll which has tracked public opinion, motivations, and social sentiment since 1963 in the US. The study was conducted in December 2021 among 2,037 adults, among whom 953 suffer from mental health issues. 65% of Americans want access to psychedelics for mental health, including psilocybin mushrooms, ketamine, and MDMA, proving that there is certainly a demand for mushrooms in mainstream treatment. Moreover, 83% of Americans who experience mental health issues would be willing to try alternative treatments, with 62% wanting to trial psilocybin. A desire to stray away from traditional antidepressants, such as SSRIs, seems to reverberate off a minority who are dissatisfied with the effect of SSRIs. 18% of surveyed individuals reported that there was no improvement to their condition or, even worse, a back-slide in symptoms. Matt Stang, co-founder and CEO of Delic, has pointed out how valuable psychedelic treatment is medicinally and financially: “This promising family of new medicines has the potential to be more effective than traditional medicines with minimal side effects, giving people their best selves back. Our country’s mental health crisis not only impacts public health, but also the economy–each year, untreated mental illness costs the U.S. up to $300 billion in lost productivity” - Matt Stang, DelicCorp Given that there is a slowly increasing demand for psychedelic treatment, how has the efficacy and safety of psilocybin been measured? Psilocybin versus Escitalopram One study into psilocybin was conducted at Imperial College London. Men and women between the ages of 18 and 80 years were formally recruited, except for those with a personal history of psychosis or other medically significant health conditions. The patients were separated into two groups: psilocybin and escitalopram (SSRI) recipients. On Visit 1, all patients underwent a functional MRI, completed cognitive processing tasks, and attended a preparatory therapeutic session. Visit 2 ensured that the psilocybin group received 25 mg of psilocybin, where the escitalopram group received 1 mg of psilocybin. The results, despite not demonstrating the full efficacy of psilocybin in treating depression, were still relevant in a field of extremely fertile and necessary research. A Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomology-Self Report (QIDS-SR-16) response occurred in 70% of patients in the psilocybin group compared to 48% of those in the escitalopram group. Moreover, the former group of patents reported greater perceived improvements in the ability to feel intense emotion and pleasure, suggesting that depressive symptoms were improved in those who underwent psychedelic treatment. The Practicality of Psychedelic Treatment There is a catch, though, on implementing mushrooms into mainstream antidepressant pharmaceuticals: they are highly restricted and criminalised in many countries. Although psilocybin is not considered addictive, per se, this class of mushroom has been assigned the same category as other narcotics with “a high potential for abuse”, like heroin. In the US, psilocybin is still considered a Schedule 1 drug and is therefore illegal. Conversely, the tide is beginning to turn. In 2019, psilocybin has been decriminalised in three locations: Denver, Oregon, and Santa Cruz. Psychedelic treatment is, moreover, becoming increasingly mainstream with the anaesthetic uses of ketamine. Delic even operates the largest chain of psychedelic mental health clinics in the US with 12 centres fully functioning today. As Dr Marcus Roggen, President and Chief Science Officer of Delic Labs, has concluded: “In the area of medical developments, psilocybin and other plant-based compounds show great promise, but also have their limitations. With our medicinal chemistry expertise as the foundation, we will continue to explore these novel psychedelic compounds and other drug candidates with the goal of adding them to this exciting field of medicine” – Dr. Marcus Roggen, Forbes. Mushrooms are certainly on the rise and multiple clinical studies have affirmed psilocybin’s efficacy in treatment-resistant depression. Perhaps, the medical sphere can take a more conscious approach to mental health and reframe fungi not as something to be feared, but as a resource to be utilised. Similar: Plants vs Pills: The Solution that Could Transform Health We are a not for profit socio-ethical impact initiative advocating for topics that matter, whilst supporting wider planetary change and acknowledgement. Support our journalism by considering becoming an advocate from just £1.

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