It doesn’t make sense. Why ask for the opinion of government advisers and then disregard their advice not once, but three years in succession?
There were echoes of this during the Covid pandemic, when the government reportedly ignored the scientific advice regarding the path they should take when considering ongoing lockdown measures to further reduce the movement of people and whether to continue to impose the mandatory wearing of masks. Sadly, there seems to be just one overriding factor when the UK government considers matters of public health and welfare – the effect on profit margins.
There is now evidence that this questionable approach to consultation has filtered through into other departments in Whitehall.
An inconvenient truth
Last week the BBC published an article highlighting the government’s stubbornness in refusing the opinion of an independent panel of pesticide experts. Concerns were raised regarding plans to continue to allow the use of a seed treatment on sugar beet crops, banned in most of the EU. Whilst crops are at risk of attack from aphids causing yellows virus, the use of the pesticide thiamethoxam is not only deadly to the pest but also to bees.
The declining number of bees and other pollinators, and our reliance upon them to pollinate our food crops, has circulated around the mainstream media for a while now. This appears to be an inconvenient truth for the UK government, preferring to back business in the short-term, rather than protect the environment and our food supplies over the long-term.
Whilst there may be some sympathy for an obsession with protecting its citizens’ income and wealth – after all, an unhappy electorate doesn’t re-elect an unpopular government – what’s really needed is mature leadership and a willingness to do the right thing when safeguarding our future and the health of the planet.
Popularity politics needs to give way to pragmatism. Although environmental activism is regularly portrayed as guerrilla warfare these days, a majority swing in public opinion towards an acceptance of the issues that threaten our existence would lead to more politicians that reflect and address these concerns.
Birmingham Friends of the Earth has had a similar experience locally. We’ve been running a campaign encouraging Birmingham City Council to adopt an organic approach to managing its parks and green spaces, including banning the use of peat and the spraying of fungicides and pesticides. We have called it the ‘Save Our Soil’ campaign in recognition of the importance of preserving a biodiversity that stretches beyond our pollinators.
Unsurprisingly, soil is often overlooked in the fight to stop and reverse climate change. At first glance, there isn’t anything green about it. But incredibly, our soils are home to a quarter of the Earth’s species. It is estimated that about 99% of the microorganisms found in soil are yet to be discovered, yet they all contribute to the maintenance of healthy soils and a balanced ecosystem.
All of us will be acquainted with the earthworm, visible as it breaks the surface. Harder to detect are the fungi that can spread for miles underground, and the microscopic bacteria that helps decompose and convert organic matter into the nutrients that feed other organisms. They are all at risk from the effects of poor soil management, including the use of pesticides. This is as important for those living and working in the city as it is for those in the countryside.
As with the government’s thiamethoxam fiasco, many of us find it easier to agree on the importance of managing soil where food is grown on farms and our allotments, but often overlook the significance of soil when looking for solutions to climate change. Good, healthy soils can absorb and store water, making them a natural defence against flooding and drought. Furthermore, there are an estimated ten billion tonnes of carbon stored in UK soils alone. Well-maintained soils can capture carbon dioxide and store it, making them an essential resource in reducing harmful emissions.
Knowing that the use of pesticides damages the health of soils by killing beneficial microorganisms and insects, Birmingham Friends of the Earth is calling on Birmingham City Council to produce and implement a ‘no pesticide’ strategy by 2025.
A middle ground of indifference
Unfortunately, whilst we thank the several hundred people that have taken a moment to sign our petition online, we remain well short of the total number needed to prompt Birmingham City Council into making an official response, despite the publication of several articles on our website and associated social media posts.
The balance of public interest still rests within a middle ground of indifference at the moment, despite the streams of documentaries and news articles highlighting the threat to wildlife and the warnings from environmental scientists.
It is only when the leaders of governments are seen to follow the advice from those that they have appointed as experts in their field, that we can hope to witness the groundswell in public opinion required to bring about a real commitment to tackling environmental concerns.
If you live in Birmingham, please sign and circulate our petition available HERE.
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