FilmsWe don’t usually do film reviews but these are two hugely relevant high profile films that we felt we couldn’t ignore. The first is Don’t Look Up, a very funny and scary science fiction satire, starring Leonardo diCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep. Based on the premise of two astronomers trying to warn humanity about an imminent comet collision with Earth, it effectively parallels the experiences of climate scientists and activists in their attempts to warn about the climate crisis but being met with trivialisation, incomprehension and a refusal to take the threat seriously. This is reflected in the film by pundits warning the public not to ‘Look Up’, in case they see reality bearing down on them.

As the environmental campaigner George Monbiot has said “Watching Don’t Look Up made me see my whole life of campaigning flash before me.” He is not alone. The film has been widely applauded by scientists and activists, while getting a lukewarm reception from film critics (critics 54% and public 78% in Rotten Tomatoes), perhaps because deep down they know they are also complicit in trivialising the issue.

We’re not aware of any local cinemas screening the film but it’s currently available on Netflix and may yet come to the Foxlowe in Leek.

Less frenetic, or indeed funny, The Trick is a sensitive portrayal of the story behind Climategate and the hacking and wilful misrepresentation of e-mail records in the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia – one of the world’s leading climate research centres. The deniers’ particular target, the head of the unit, was hounded, pilloried and sent death threats to the extent that he was no longer able to function. The ‘trick’ in question was not an attempt to hide the truth, as suggested in the accusations, but standard scientific shorthand for a technique to solve a problem.

The problem was that tree ring data, used as proxy for temperature measurements going back beyond the invention of thermometers, stopped being reliable from the 1960s onwards, even though they had shown a close match for hundreds of years before that. This was due to pollution and other environmental problems adversely affecting tree growth, creating the impression of declining temperatures, even though it was clear from modern instrumentation that they were going up. Hence the term ‘hide the decline’ that was touted as evidence of duplicity. It was the decline in the proxy data, no longer needed anyway and no longer accurate, that was being hidden and removing it from the hockey stick graph gave a clearer unambiguous picture of dramatic temperature increases.

The film illustrates beautifully the mismatch between the careful scientific mind that seeks to be honest and rigorous and never to overstate its case and the crass over-simplifications of the denial industry. Not only that, but even the two PR experts, employed to help the professor explain his actions to a Commons select committee, frequently had difficulty understanding him. For me, the most poignant and subtle part of the film is the moment when they finally get him to describe in lay terms what the future holds if the tipping point is passed. They say nothing, but the slight flare of the nostrils and the twitch of the Adam’s apple in the younger one who has just become a father speak volumes.

Professor Jones was vindicated by the select committee but the whole climate action programme was probably set back by at least 10 years.

The film is available on BBC i-Player for another 9 months – well worth watching.

Alison McCrea

Newsletter Editor

 

We welcome this article from Catherine Back on the difficulties and dilemmas of eco-renovating an old house. If you've had similar experiences, or have maybe even found some solutions, we'd love you to share them with us, so that we can include them in a future edition of the newsletter.  You can contact us via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I write this while surrounded by the anti-eco carnage that is Christmas decorating. While I’m a fan of “vintage” hand me down and second hand decorations I can’t help but despair at the amount of plastic that is being unboxed ready for my tree. A real tree that is… apparently it still has a lower carbon footprint than a plastic one. Why am I telling you all this? My issue really is plastic; toxic, non-biodegradable and fossil fuel fuelled plastic.

A month or so ago I read an article posted on the Facebook page about eco-renovation of old buildings to make them closer to modern building standards and leach less heat. I am 1 year and 9 months into my own old house renovation and reading that article felt far from the reality. This article was one of many bashing those in large old leaky houses and released off the back of the empty and underwhelming promises made by the government at the COP26 summit. At the same time everyone started shouting about insulating houses as a major solution to climate change. Like with my Christmas decorations, I couldn’t help but despair and shout a little in retaliation. Well, let me tell you why…

I have lived and breathed old house renovation for a long time now, it is all consuming as we live in our building site of a house and have been witness to many modern building practices. While everyone has been thinking about pandemic r values, we have been thinking about u values (measure of thermal transmittance). We entered this with eyes wide open (or so I thought), knowing the whole house needed work and armed with ‘The Old House Eco-Handbook’ by Marianne Suhr and Roger Hunt, discussions with a friend who works for the Centre for Alternative Technology and building officers who advised on building materials to bring us up to modern building standards. We bought a beautiful but leaky (in more ways than 1) old house with the intention of renovating it and living in it in an environmentally sound way, and we have tried, but it really isn’t as simple as some may think.

Our house has pretty much been gutted as far as possible while being sympathetic to the history of the building. Many of the period features were lost in the 60s and many modern less breathable building and decoration materials had been put in. We wanted to restore it so it looked as it should but with a lower carbon footprint. The plan: conservation double glazed windows with a tiny u value (shockingly expensive), solar electrics, switch from an oil boiler to air source, more efficient heating system, of radiators and underfloor heating, and to insulate where possible floors, walls and roof. Windows in, tick!, they are so good we get condensation on the outside now, solar is in, tick!, although we use more than we generate, air source is going through planning but we hope to get it in before RHI expires early next year (the new incentive is not as good!), underfloor heating in and some radiators, almost tick!

Now we come to my issues with insulation, we decided to try and insulate to as close to modern building standards as possible to keep in the heat. The ground floor was dug out (with the exception of the areas of parquet) and insulation and underfloor heating laid down; the insulation was a locally made relation of ‘Kingspan’. It was only when they were cutting it up in my garden to fit it in that I really thought about whether this was an environmentally sound thing to do. Burying an off-gassing, oil fuelled, non-biodegradable material in my house? Then there was the huge quantity of micro plastic dust that was floating around my garden as they cut it up. Unfortunately the same was simultaneously put in my roof, along with bottle after bottle of spray foam and a super duper insulating felt called TLX Gold, also made of plastic. Our house floors and roof were being brought up to modern day standards, but at what cost? As the owner of an old building I feel I am a custodian for future generations, but with my attempt to be eco what mess was I leaving behind for future generations? Not only that but the off-gassing materials in my house were now reducing the air quality for my family in our now less draughty house, so I have bought air purifiers… also made of plastic.

Having been horrified by this experience we moved onto the walls. Insulation from the outside was not an option; it would destroy a historic building and change the look of the area, so even if I wanted to do it we probably wouldn’t be allowed. We set about stripping off the plasticised paint and textured wall paper, chipping off layers of gypsum based plaster and bonding coats to brick and allowed the walls to breathe again. This was not a pleasant process, very dusty and very disruptive. We did not have cornices so nothing would be lost in the building out of walls with insulation, however anyone who has seen a renovation TV program will tell you that budget is almost always an issue. We looked into eco-options; there are some great ones out there, breathable, non-toxic, and with ethically and environmentally sound sourcing, granted the heat loss is still higher than with modern building materials but better than traditionally plastered walls, and… no plastic. There is a lot of choice; however ‘Hempcrete’ in my opinion is a brilliant and arguably the best option, albeit expensive. We were staggered at the cost of the materials alone; £30,000 to do all our internal outside walls in ‘Hempcrete’! Not only that but every ceiling would have to come down so you can insulate every inch of outside wall and not create cold spots which will cause condensation and rot the beams. Then add to that the cost of the labour and materials to replace the ceilings and replaster the walls in breathable lime and then the cost of eco-paint on top. Then there are the modern trades who don’t like these traditional slow to apply materials, and even those, who have experience and are geared up to apply these for you. you catch doing ridiculous things like squirting spray foam into the gaps between your newly exposed stone wall (exposed so you can repoint it in lime and allow it to breath). I spent a good 2 hours crying while scraping it out with a screwdriver accompanied by my sympathetic children; they understood how sad plastic was making me. A year later and a bit beaten down, I still have no plaster on my walls but have resigned myself to doing my best. My walls will not be insulated, I refuse to put more plastic in the fabric of my house, the walls will be made breathable with lime plaster and eco-paint as would have been traditionally done in this house. My thick stone walls will be allowed to heat up and will work to radiate some of that heat back into the house, a natural thermal store. Maybe they got it right when they built this house?

History programmes regularly highlight the unpleasant and sometimes toxic materials used in houses over the centuries, but with our call to insulate Britain will we be repeating the same mistake I wonder? There are many eco-friendly types of insulation, however the reality is that for many, and for government funded schemes, eco-materials will be far too expensive. Think about it…

Catherine Back

Badgers and fox foraging“Scientific evidence has proved the culling of badgers is ineffective in fighting bovine tuberculosis among cattle and yet 2021 is set to be the biggest badger cull to date.” Source Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. The annual slaughter of our native Badgers has been underway since September. 140,000 badgers have already been culled since 2013. In Staffordshire, 5,000 more badgers could be killed this year alone, and the license to kill has been extended.
Many local communities are on guard every night in their efforts to protect these beautiful creatures. Whatever ‘side’ you are on, the facts are IT DOESN’T WORK!!!!!  So why continue??? Here’s my poem to reflect my own views. As I walk in the Moorlands, I see the conditions in which cattle are kept for at least half of their lives. Damp, cold, semi-dark sheds, breathing in straw dust and the fumes from their own manure. Imagine what that does to the lungs of the cattle!!!! It would certainly lay me low, open to disease.


Badger Sense

She sensed the gunman stalking by
his angry face uplifting to the chase
uplifted to the job of Badger Cull
his spirits raised with each successful aim.

She signalled danger. Danger! Now!

Those people

Mother Earth cried as the last Rhino died
“I sent humans a message -
the message was clear.
But despite all the warnings
they choose not to hear!

Their pollution and greed continues to grow
and the planet will never survive!”
But it seemed that they wished to return to their ways.
She just knew that they couldn’t resist.
Their patterns were threaded with constant distraction