18 October 2009

SoCam Jam and Climate Change

Some parts of South Camberwell are blessed with fruit trees. In Abbotswood Road an old and some more recently planted crab-apple trees seem almost overburdened at this time of year. Grove Park has pear and apple trees of such size they must date back many decades, if not to the time when it was part of Dr. John Coakley Lettsom’s villa.

Botany, we are told in a publication of 1801, was one of Dr. Lettsom’s philanthropies and, “Grove-hill, his rural retreat at Camberwell, about three miles from London, where he has formed a museum of natural history, consisting of many rare and valuable specimens in that walk of science as well as a botanic garden, enriched with the choicest plants, brought at a vast expense from the four quarters of the globe, all correctly arranged according to the Linnaean system.” (p.536, Public Characters of 1800-1801).
I’m hoping my longstanding suggestion for a grove of fruit trees at the end of the now agreed long green vista through the centre of the East Dulwich Estate will continue such great tradition as part of our regeneration environmental works.
We have already decided on a wild meadow full of grasses and wild flowers and our environmental planning now looks to include plots for residents to care for and tend as part on an ongoing and future management plan that involves rather than excludes. Michelle Obama calls these “People’s Gardens” and it is a concept earlier in the year I was able to get Harriet Harman, MP to endorse during an estate walkabout.

The Albrighton Youth Club has survived despite the very tragic cuts in funding from the Tory/Lib-Dem run Southwark Council. The resulting staff redundancies have been met by a flowering of volunteers and a determination to provide when local authority ignores our children’s futures.
So, SoCam jam, taking the abundance of South Camberwell fruit windfalls and turning it into jam and jelly to raise funds for the youth services at the winter fete, is just one way we are seeking to ensure our kids have something to do in a structured and safe environment.
SoCam pear and apple jelly, SoCam jam with a hint of rosemary, pear and redcurrant, bramble and apple and, I’m about to make the first trial batch, crab-apple, quince, fuchsia and pear. Any jam jars anyone would like to recycle?
Grow your own is a concept I favour and in our “people’s garden” sage, rosemary, thyme and mint (English, Peppermint, Russian and lemon) grow with some other less obvious herbs and all seem to have survived the regeneration grit blasting! Redcurrant and blackcurrant were stomped upon so crops were very limited.
Now, the use of sugar to make jam did get me thinking about climate change and working towards a non carbon future and the huge challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
Just where does our jam sugar come from?
I know sugar is an intensively irrigated crop and beet sugar (30% of the world’s sugar production) burns a fossil fuel such as coal, oil or gas during processing.

A gentle wander around the internet found this synthetic sugar-monster (see image) and the SIBC (Sugar Industry Biotech Council) who tell us:
“Whether from sugar beets or sugar cane, or from sugar crops grown using conventional, biotech or organic methods, sugar is pure and natural and has identical nutritional value, composition and wholesomeness. The sugar is the same no matter its original plant source or growing practice.” It turns out genetic modification of beets and cane is well advanced in the Americas.
In terms of using solar energy for a low carbon future sugar cane can grow very quickly and can fix sunlight with an efficiency greater than the planetary average for wild plants. Originally the drive to increase sugar cane growth was to produce sugar, but increasingly to make ethanol. In Brazil this is being done. Over 50% of vehicles in Brazil run on ethanol-based fuels. These fuels should be more or less carbon neutral, but, as with all carbon questions the devil can be in the detail.
Biofuels need countries with large landmass and although the fuels themselves are carbon neutral, their processing is not. Converting crops into fuel requires energy and fertilizer, both of which produce significant greenhouse gas emissions.
Brazil’s sugar cane comes out fairly well compared to fossil fuels. But others, notably the corn-based fuel favoured in the US, can be almost as bad as the petrol they claim to replace. Indeed, much of the biofuel imported into Europe from countries such as Indonesia suffers from the same problem. The rainforests that are cut down and burned to clear the land for planting cause more emissions than the fuels themselves save.
Emerging technology, does offer the prospect of “second-generation” biofuels such as switchgrass (for bioethanol) and jatropha (for biodiesel) with the added benefit of tremendous opportunities for those developing countries already suffering disproportionately from climate change.
So, given food demand over the next two decades is expected rise by 50%, my Silver Spoon sugar packet does not tell me much about where it came from or its carbon emissions.
British Sugar Plc claims to have been the first sugar business to certify the carbon footprint of its granulated sugar using something called “the new PAS 2050 method.” [This is all explained here: http://www.silverspoon.co.uk/home/about-us/news/carbon-footprint-pr] and at [http://www.silverspoon.co.uk/home/about-us/carbon-footprint].
Nevertheless, just how do I, or should I, buy UK produced sugar from “established UK arable farmers … from assured supply chains” and “with minimal ‘food-miles’: average transport distance is only 30 miles”?
Is all the silver spoon sugar I buy from the UK?
If I give up sugar will I save the world from climate change?
Equally, I simple can’t imagine a world without the pure delight of homemade jam!
2009 is when the EU opens up sugar markets to competition from overseas, ending subsidies to ensure developing countries fair access to our markets and this may well make beet sugar production in Europe unsustainable.
Add to this a natural desire to support developing countries and my question about sugar and any carbon neutral, let alone non carbon, future seems more far more complicated than imagined.
Many people are green in aspiration but wholly bemused by the science and rival posturing for a low-carbon future. For me, the real question is truthfully working to change lifestyle options incrementally to secure the real buy-in to the change we all recognize is needed.
Yet, changing culture is never going to be at all easy when values clash. Sooner or later we will all have to live within the planet’s means and use no more resources than the environment can produce and sustain.
I know a little bit about jam – it is one of the simple things in life to produce and enjoy – but, I’m not sure I know enough about sugar.
So two reasons why I’m going to carry on making SoCam jam. First, we need youth services and if the local authority won’t provide we will make jam! Second, locally produced jam confers an  immunity to allergies so, if you want to do at least one good thing buy a jar of SoCam Jam in December.
I’m not sure if it will help save the planet but, I am sure it will help produce a generation of kids who will want to consider the choices rather than kill each other. We can’t hope for social justice if we are parochial and the spectacular trust provided us by nature demands we think deeply about all future generations.

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