human activity and the destruction of the planet

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World Human Population: Past, Present and Future


Up until the industrial revolution, the human population in the world had remained fairly static at around one billion people but, by 1930, it had doubled to 2 billion and had reached the third billion by 1959 (in less than 30 years), the fourth billion was reached another 15 years later (1974), and the fifth billion in only another 13 years (1987). According to the most recent United Nations estimates, the human population of the world is expected to reach 8 billion people by the spring of 2024. And 90% of world’s population now lives in cities.  A big change from the largely agricultural communities that existed before the industrial revolution.

Fig.43  The human population increase since the first century

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Figure 43 shows the human population increase since the first century – an almost identical curve to that in Fig. 7 (Chapter 1), which shows the increase in carbon emissions over the last two centuries.  Thus, there would appear to be a very strong link between human population increases and the increase in carbon emissions, perhaps through the common connection they both have with the industrial revolution.

The population of the world is currently growing at a rate of around 1.13% per year, with the average annual population change currently estimated at around 80 million per year. The annual growth rate reached its peak in the late 1960s, when it was at 2% and above. Population statisticians expect the human population to begin to level off at about 11 billion people, which they think will be reached by the end of this century, mainly because family size is reducing.  In some Asian countries, for example Bangladesh, family size is now just over 2 children per family, having reduced from about 5.5 children per family 50 years ago; this is mainly as a result of better education about birth control and a demonstrated relationship between large family size, poverty and infant mortality.

The most populous country is China, followed by India, the USA and Indonesia.  The pie chart in Figure 47 shows the breakdown by country of those countries with over 100 million people.  The United Kingdom ranks 22nd in the world in terms of population size, with just over 62½ million people.  The smallest nation listed in Wikipedia is the Pitcairn Islands, with a population of just 48.

As long ago as 1798, Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)52 warned that population increase might create problems, as his calculations showed that population size increases exponentially (as in the Fig.46 graph), whereas food production increases arithmetically. He thought there would come a time when we would no longer be able to feed ourselves. He predicted that there would be a halt in population increase, followed by a rapid reduction in the population of the world, caused by natural catastrophes, such as famine, disease and war.  He made a number of suggestions about what needed to be done to curb this population increase, such as “moral restraint”, with criminal punishments for those who had more children than they could support. Some of these ideas led to him losing credibility yet, 200+ years later, we can see that his theory has come to be true, surprising in a way, as he came up with his theory long before the human population began its phase of most rapid increase.  And it is interesting that some countries (eg China, Bangladesh) have used his ideas about limiting the number of children they have, though recently China has relaxed this policy because of a shortage of young people to work in their growth industries.


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World Population breakdown for countries with over 100 million people

(from Google Images)

 A recent article in The Guardian condoning China’s relaxation of its one-child policy53 has met with considerable correspondence, especially by population scientists, who are continuing to urge that it is highly important to do something to curb population increase. However, human rights organisations hold a different view on this issue. And economists urge to maintain the numbers of babies being born, in order to keep furure generations to work in the (fossil-fuel-burning) industries to keep the economy growing.  Population dynamics can therefore be contentious issue.

Studies of animal populations have shown that population size tends to increase exponentially (as in the Fig.48 graph) until a point is reached when some external factor causes a decline in the population.  With some carnivorous species, this shows a regular pattern which is very strongly related to the availability of prey.  However, as with food webs, the real situation is rather more complicated than this.


Fig.45: Population size – the relationship between predator (lion) and prey (gazelle)


 In other species, a maximum population size is reached, followed by a slight decline and then a levelling off.  During the 1960s, when human population was increasing at its fastest rate, there were great concerns about the future of the human race and whether the earth would be able to produce enough food to sustain all human life.   Some recent studies by Professor Hans Rosling54 and produced in video form (“Don’t Panic – the facts about population”) have suggested that family size is reducing in most of the world, though not yet in Africa, nor in the UK. His projections show that, by 2050, eighty per cent of the world’s population will live in Asia and Africa, as population size is beginning to decline in Europe and the Americas.

The huge increases in population are undoubtedly the reason why some countries are tampering with the genetic code of certain crops, to develop food crops that give better yields, are less affected by pests etc.  However, I believe that this is another example of human activity changing the face of the earth that we inhabit, without first checking what the long-term consequencies of this tampering might be.

Population increase is probably related to a number of factors: the discovery of antibiotics, which can have the effect of prolonging human life; vaccination programmes, which have eradicated or reduced the incidence of some of the most lethal diseases (eg smallpox); a higher standard of living since the industrial revolution.   There are all kinds of theories promoted by experts in population dynamics as to what point the human population will have reached its zenith and what will be the external factor which triggers a rapid decline in human numbers.  It could be anything: overcrowding, leading to wars; climate change, leading to deaths by increased incidences of weather disasters and poor crop yield; a lack of food; air pollution/ lack of oxygen; industrial accidents, especially connected with the nuclear industry; global warming, leading to deaths from heat exposure – some countries (eg India) are already showing record high temperatures and increased numbers of deaths associated with this; the appearance of new “super-bugs”, resistant to known antibiotics; a meteor strike; or something else, not imagined as yet. An article in the Open University’s “Open Minds” magazine55, entitled “Humanity’s Last Stand” proposed five of the greatest threats to the continued survival of the human race, according to OU experts, as being:

  • The appearance of super-bugs resistant to current antibiotics;
  • Nuclear war;
  • A takeover by robots;
  • A hotter planet;
  • A meteor strike.

At the moment, we can say that the increase in the world population is one untoward consequence of the industrial revolution and its continuum.  We can also say that the increase in the human population has led to increased human activity in those areas which are damaging to our planet. So, there is another interconnectedness here:  climate change/species loss connected to human activity, especially since the industrial revolution; increased human population also since the industrial revolution, also leading to species loss as humans take over new habitats.  But there are other factors also interconnected with these three factors. One of these is affluence.

Affluence and carbon emissions

Statistics promoted by Prof. Hans Rosling demonstrate a clear relationship between extreme poverty and population dynamics.  They also show that, whilst many people are starting to move out of poverty (as a consequence of the better lifestyles of all since the industrial revolution), there are some who cannot manage this without outside help, and these remain in extreme poverty (mainly in Africa and Asia).  His statistics show that the richest people in the world have the greatest use of carbon emitting fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), being responsible for 50% of all carbon emissions.  Indeed further analysis shows that 85% of carbon emissions come from the medium rich to the very rich.  The poorest people on earth, despite their numbers, only contribute towards 15% of carbon emissions.  So, this is another interconnectedness – whilst there might still be large numbers of people living in poverty, they cannot be blamed for the carbon emissions causing climate change. In fact, many of them have become the victims of it.

So, we can see that the increase in carbon emissions has been caused by the industrial revolution but that the exponential rise in the human population has resulted in more and more human activity, causing more and more carbon emissions. Because the human population has been rising exponentially, it has set off an accompanying exponential rise in carbon emissions, the rate of which has surprised many scientists.  It is only by looking at the the interconnections that we can come to these conclusions.

Fig.46  Logo for World Population Day 2016

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However, there are many factors at work here. Just as the food chain is rarely a simple chain but more like a food web, so it is with carbon emissions.  Increased industrialisation – yes – but also increased numbers of people involved in more and more industrialisation.  Because it is more complicated than a simple cause and effect, it will take very sophisticated methods to reverse the trend, which will encroach on every area of life. Also, actions in some countries may not be relevent in other countries, so what is needed is a global response. Some of these issues are discussed by Paul and Ann Ehrlich in their book, “The Dominant Animal; Human Evolution and the Environment” (2008)56.


Bill Gates, founder of the Microsoft corporation, and of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is an advisor to the Global Povery Project, which campaigns for the elimination of poverty. As part of the Global Citizen Initiative, a number of ambassadors have been appointed, of whom one is my son Ben, to raise awareness of the fact that poverty could be eliminated by 2030, with relatively small increases in aid budgets. GCI challenges some of the myths and beliefs that the world is getting worse and that extreme poverty cannot be solved.  It has been said that, for the cost of the Iraq war, we could have ended world hunger for 30 years.

However, the sadness is that, when people do lift themselves out of poverty, they then start adding to the total carbon emissions by buying themselves vehicles and household equipment and gadgets that they previously could not afford.  However, I do not think this is a reason not to help people out of poverty.  What we must do is educate people about the consequences of human activity and climate change so that they, with the rest of the world, will start to find new ways of living that do not place the planet at risk.

The Super Rich

Prof. Paul Rogers has published a paper for the Oxford Research Group6,57(Sep. 2012), entitled: “Chances for Peace in the Second Decade – What is going wrong and what we must do.” He identifies two root issues which bring about the likelihood of conflict and/or war.  They are: Socioeconomic divisions and environmental constraints (climate change), which he considers to be interrelated. In a section headed “Rich-Poor World”, he outlines how global economic growth has become more and more unbalanced, leading to the existence of a trans-global elite who own own about 85% of the world’s wealth (1.5 billion people out of a world population of 7 billion), with a super-elite of many thousands of multi-millionaires.  Because of the size of the elite, it acts as a self-contained global entity and persistently fails to recognise the endemic mal-distribution of world wealth and income.  Because of improved education and better communication, many marginalised groups are becoming aware of these divisions and injustices, leading to despair, resentment and anger.  All over the world new social movements are developing, to challenge the old order, leading to unrest, conflict and wars.

Another Professor, Andrew Sayer from Lancaster University, has released a book entitled, “Why we can’t afford the Rich”58, a book which won the 2015 Peter Townsend prize. He states in his book, “We cannot continue to provide the rich and super-rich with unearned income.  Their political power is a threat to democracy,  and their excessive consumption and dependence on never-ending growth are unsustainable.”

Oxfam has recently released figures59 that show that, by 2016, the combined wealth of the richest 1% of people will have overtaken that of the remaining 99% of people.  One in nine people in the world do not have enough to eat and more than a billion live on less than $1.25 a day.

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From: graph taken from statistics provided by Oxfam (


Fig. 48


There are those who are of the belief that big business is entirely responsible for terrorist attacks.In my first book I argue that it was no coincidence that the 9/11 outrage was targeted at the World Trade Centre – an icon for big business.  In her documentary, “The Economics of Happiness”, Helena Norberg-Hodge60 sets out how the world is moving simultaneously in two directions: Government and big business continue to promote globalisation and the consolidation of corporate power, whilst the rest of the world are resisting those policies and working to forge a very different future, which involves re-building on a more human scale, with the localisation of economics being the goal.


Concomitant with the increase in the world’s population, there has been an increasing trend in people moving to cities, in search of work, so that now 90% of the world’s peoples live in cities.  A good example of this trend occurred with my own family ancestors on my father’s side, who were originally farm labourers in Norfolk. During the mid-1800s, due to imports of vast quantities of American wheat, many British farms went out of business and my ancestors found themselves out of work.  My great great grandfather, John Jackson, and his large family, travelled north to Lincolnshire and then Yorkshire, finding work eventually in the coal mines and coke industry, thus contributing unwittingly to the whole industrialisation process. And a similar story can be told over much of the world, as factories have replaced farms and the IR Continuum spreads.

Industrialisation of Farming

But, there have also been trends to make farms become more like factories, with the introduction of battery farms for the raising of poultry and egg production, the keeping of pigs in restricted metal cages, whilst they give birth, and the transport of live animals across continents under inhumane conditions and without water, only to be slaughtered abroad in sometimes brutal practices.  There has been limited success in abolishing some of the most brutal of practices, by campaigning groups, but there is still a long way to go before animals are seen as related species sharing this world with us, rather than commodities to be sold and slaughtered for profit.

Farmers have also utilised more of their land, with the pressure to become more productive, so that hedgerows have disappeared and, with them, many of the bird species that nest there, along with small mammals61). However, legislation has been introduced to control this61.

Some of the inhumane consequencies of the industrialisation of farming


Fig.49:  Battery hens


Fig 50:  A sow being kept in a restrictive pen after giving birth.  


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Fig 51:  Sheep being shipped by ocean in very cramped inhumane conditions

Another of the situations predicted by Malthus was the development of “gluts” when farm production over-supplied with certain crops and foodstuffs.  In Europe there have been gluts of sugar, butter, wheat and now milk.  And at the time that I write, UK dairy farmers and going out of business because supermarkets are failing to pay a fair price for milk, because they can buy it more cheaply elsewhere.  The Fair Trade system was introduced a few years’ back, to help developing countries sell their goods at a fair price; this sytem also needs to be introduced for dairy farmers in the UK.

In some countries, people have stayed in rural areas and continued to till the land, but because of increased populations, there is less land available.  This has resulted in the felling of forests, in order to produce agricultural land.  And this itself has affected the climate, as these very same forests were the major “sinks” in which carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was absorbed to produce oxygen, through the process of photosynthesis (chapter 1).  The loss of the forests has also led to the loss of many rare species , as their habitat is lost (chapter 1).

In some countries too, there has been a move to fell forests to grow illicit crops, which are more lucrative, thus fuelling the drugs cartels and parallel economies.


One of the factors associated with a heterogenous world population is that people in different parts of the world grow up with different values and will seek to adhere to those values, wherever they live.  It is part of their cultural identity.  Thus, many in the UK adhere to a protestant work ethic, which may have been behind the industrial revolution.  Their value system also has much in common with Christian values of justice and fairness, even though many people no longer have a faith. In this country we also value education. This is, of course a generalisation, as many from the business world born out of the IR Continuum, do not adhere to the values of justice and fairness but instead see the acquisition of money as their main goal, perhaps because of ancestral links with the landowners of our feudal past.  They are not alone in this, as several of the other cultures settling in this country have different goals and values, mostly based on family and/or the acquisition of wealth.  This may be because they have come from poverty in their own countries, and want to send money to their relatives back home, or because they have come from a value system which admires those who have made a lot of money, rather than those who are well educated. Those coming from cultures which value the family (and father) above all else may find it difficult to adjust to a system based on the employer/employee relationship. In a multi-cultural society like ours, this can lead to conflicts, disaffection and a lack of awareness of the grave issues facing the world today.

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Fig 52: Multi-cultural Britain

The motivation to make money is a strong one and can also lead to a denial of the seriousness of climate change.

Many young people born in this country of parents who emigrated here from commonwealth countries, find themselves torn between two cultures:  the culture which their parents still value and the British culture.  They may feel they do not belong to either and this can lead to disaffection and the attractiveness of joining terrorist groups or criminal gangs, to which they feel they can belong.  It is a development with which we have not yet come to grips in the UK – and a similar situation exists in France, Belgium and Germany and other European countries. I worked in an inner city area of Birmingham for some years, trying to help the unemployed find work, most of them young, ethnic minority men.  It was very difficult as most potential employers just did not want them. I saw many becoming disaffected and angry and others turning to drugs and/or crime.  I do not find it surprising therefore that some young people have been radicalised and have joined terrorist groups.

I believe that it is differences in our value systems, way of life, mother tongue, clothing and appearance that lead to disharmony between ethnic groups and can, if we allow it, lead to racism.

Any strategy for the future needs to acknowledge that, whilst we all have in common our humanity, we may adhere to different value systems – and these need to be respected, if we are to move to greater co-operation and joint efforts to save the planet.

Migration issues

Some of the experts who have tried to predict the future of the human race, as a consequence of the multiple effects of population explosion, climate change and war, have foreseen that, in the future, there would be massive migration from Asian and African countries to Europe, Australasia and America.  As I write this, it would appear that this migration has already started, with thousands of refugees fleeing from the Middle East, Asia and Africa to Europe, at a rate with which the European countries cannot cope.  If the experts are right, this is only going to get worse, with more deaths from drowning in the Mediterrean Sea and more exploitation from ruthless traffickers who are keen to make money out of this human crisis.  It has already led to conflict and division between different European countries about how best to cope with the situation.  Some want to close their borders completely but this strategy is just as inhumane as the practices described earlier in treating farm animals as if they were factory commodities.  The wars in Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan have resulted in huge numbers of refugees, including pregnant women, the elderly and children, fleeing the violence in order to find a safe place to live and trekking hundreds of miles across countries to reach their preferred destination.

According to George Monbiot62, one of the likely catalysts for the 2011 uprising in Syria was a massive drought – the worst in the region in the instrumental record – that lasted from 2006 to 2010. It caused the emigration of one and a half million rural workers into Syrian cities, and generated furious resentment when Bashar al-Assad’s government failed to respond effectively. Climate models suggest that man-made global warming more than doubled the likelihood of a drought of this magnitude.

Wars in North African countries have also led to large numbers of people fleeing their countries, trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats, to get to Europe.  Thousands have drowned. Others have ended up in the Greek islands and Greece, already in dire economic circumstances, has had to cope with helping the refugees as best they can. Yet others, trying to get to Britain across the English Channel, are trapped in makeshift camps in Calais.


Fig.53:  Refugees trying to reach the safety of other countries


The computer age, and especially the development of the internet, has led to significant changes and advances in communication.  People are now in touch on a regular basis through social networks and email.  This has transformed the world, both for good and for bad.  Whilst the media still try to control the news and impose their own biases on the public, and have a modicum of success in this, people are also receiving information informally through other networks.  Thus, demonstrations can be organised very quickly and, in some instances, this has brought down governments, as in the Arab Spring and in Ukraine.  There is currently a world-wide disaffection with politicians, who are seen as corrupt and not trusted any more.  Unfortunately, bringing down a government, or a despotic leader, does not always lead to the changes people are seeking, as others come in to fill the vacuum, that are also unpopular and/or corrupt.  There is thus, at the moment, considerable unrest and instability throughout the world and it is difficult to predict where this will end.

It is also difficult to predict where the new-found ease of communication through the internet will take us.  Let’s hope that, ultimately it will be for the betterment of this planet, its peoples and its wildlife.

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Facebook connections throughout the world in 2010 and 2013


In some, well-publicised experiments with rats in the 1950’s, Calhoun found that when rats were kept in extremely crowded conditions, but with unlimited water and food and protection from predators, there were a number of changes in their behaviour.  Male rats in the most crowded pens became  violent  and aggressive,  “going berserk, attacking females, juveniles and less-active males.” There was also “sexual deviance.” The mortality rate among females was extremely high and there was a breakdown in maternal behaviour. Mothers stopped caring for their young, stopped building nests and even began to attack their offspring, resulting in a 96 percent mortality rate in the most crowded pens.  Parallels were drawn between these experiments with rats and whether the same could be said to be true for humans, in particular those who lived in cities (Calhoun, in the Scientific American 1962). There were a number of reviews and other experiments following this, which concluded that it was too much social interaction that caused the pathological behaviour, rather than the overcrowding. The studies have been reviewed Carla Garnett63.

A Civilised Society

At the beginning of this book, I included a list of factors important in a civilised society, put together at the turn of this century by Barbara Panvel and me (Table 2).  I believe that any developments that are made in the future to rescue the planet are carried out with this list in mind. Indeed, these characteristics may become even more important as we, as a global population, seek to find ways to co-operate more closely to save the planet.

Much of the unrest caused by better communication through the internet is because the main concerns of ordinary people are about corruption in leaders and unhealthy alliances between politicians and big business.  Some of the issues of importance to ordinary people are just not being taken on board by politicians and leaders, sometimes to their cost. Richard Douthwaite, in his book “The Growth Illusion” (1999)5,64 provides data from research that shows that most people when asked about what is important in the quality of life that they lead, come up with issues that are, in the main, not related to how much cash is available to them.  Things like:

  • The quantity of goods and services produced and consumed;
  • The quality of the environment they live in;
  • The fraction of their time available for leisure;
  • How fairly (or unfairly) available income is distributed;
  • How good or bad working conditions are;
  • How easy it is to get a job;
  • The safety of their future;
  • How healthy they are;
  • The level of cultural activity, the standard of education and ease of acces to it;
  • The quality of the housing available;
  • The chance to develop a satisfactory religious or spiritual life;
  • The strength of one’s family, home and community ties.

There is much in common between this list (from Douthwaite) and the list that Barbara and I produced (Table 2) of the characteristics of a civilised society. Also, a recent report published by the New Economics Foundation65 has used a shorter list to determine the UK’s success in economic terms, under the headings: good jobs, wellbeing, environment, fairness and health. A summary from that report and an extensive quote from Douthwaite are included with Chapter 7, on the economy.

Certainly in the UK, there seems to be an obsession among politicians about the economy and growth but little concern for issues in Douthwaite’s list, nor the effects of global warming and climate change, nor for people in poverty, nor for the many refugees fleeing their homes because of warfare there.  The anomally is that, for the UK at least, some of these wars people are fleeing from were caused by us messing in those very countries from which they are fleeing and actually making things worse for them. People fleeing from war-stricken countries do so in the hope that some of the things in the three lists may be available to them elsewhere.

Population increase and the future of the planet

At the beginning of this chapter, I mentioned that population scientists believe that the human population of the world will level off at 11 billion people at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, this is about the same time that climate scientists are saying we may be facing a mass extinction of species (three generations into the future), which will have a significant effect on the human population.  If we are going to do anything about all of these interrelated issues, it needs to be now – it will not wait until three generations’ time.  Something needs to be done to limit or reduce population increase.

















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Trading Systems, Deficits and the Concept of Growth


International trade has become so much a part of our lives that there is a tendency to take it for granted, as a normal and essential part of modern society and that of the countries of the world with which we trade.  Politicians particularly focus on it, as it is seen as a means of balancing the economy; they particularly encourage the export of British goods and turn a blind eye to all the stuff that we import.

The industrial revolution and its continuum and the development of trading systems

Historically though, trading systems as we know them today were first developed alongside the Industrial Revolution. And again, the UK was a forerunner in developing these new trading systems, as they sold the goods produced in their factories to other countries across the world, particularly to members of the British Empire, such as through the East India Company in India.  This change from the local exchange of goods to the export of goods across continents and the world has had such a great impact that its influence now affects, and influences, the whole world’s economy. The nations of the world have become so inter-connected through trade that, if one country goes through economic difficulties, then all the others are affected by it too. Because of the strong link between trading and the industrial revolution and its continuum, I have to consider it, and its effects, as one of the major interconnections that has led us globally to the situation in which the future of our planet is at risk.  Indeed, I believe that free trade is at the centre of it all.

The Industrial Revolution ended more than a century ago but the effects of it, the trading systems that were developed alongside it and the IR Continuum, still have a  growing global impact.

The effect of the IR Continuum on global trading systems has seen the rise of multi-national companies (mostly of American origin), not only trading with other countries but also setting up business abroad, in order to cut costs, employ cheaper labour and to avoid national tax tariffs.  It is not unusual now to see MacDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Monsanto and other multi-national outlets in most capitals of the world.  This is sad because the setting up of food and clothing outlets selling goods that promote the American way of life has the effect of damaging indigenous cultures and their traditions.

We also see locally produced goods transported across oceans and continents in order to trade with partner countries many thousands of miles away.  In the UK, for example, we import apples from New Zealand and Chile, fruit from South Africa, fish from Japan and Argentina, clothing and digital goods from the Far East, vehicles from Europe and so on.  The invention of the refrigerator has played its part in preventing perishable goods from decomposing whilst in transit.

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Fig. 34  A multi-national outlet for the USA in Japan (from:

Changes in trading patterns across the world since the industrial revolution can also be contentious.  For example, when I lived in Australia during the early 60s, the UK was considering whether it would join the European Common Market (now the EU).  This was very unpopular with Australians, as they had a special trading relationship with the UK, as part of the British Commonwealth.  However, Britain did join the EU and so Australia had to develop other markets, closer to home, and were able to survive this change.  But the resentment it caused in some Australians towards the EU, and the British, is still present today, as seen by the anti-EU stories constantly being peddled to the UK population, through the Australian-owned media magnates.

There has been a big change in Britain’s trading patterns as, during the 1940s-50s, about 40% of our trade was with Commonwealth countries but this is now down to 10%, as the EU has become our major market.

Large Companies and Climate Change Denial

The largest company in the world, ExxonMobil, produces oil and gas and a recent article by Shannon Hall, in Scientific American32 reports that this company was aware of climate change as early as 1977, before it became a public issue.  The company then spent decades refusing to publicly acknowledge climate change and even promoted climate misinformation.  Hall likens this approach to the lies spread by the tobacco industry regarding the health risks of smoking.  Exxon became a leader in campaigns of confusion and helped create a Global Climate Coalition to question the scientific basis for concern about climate change.  It also lobbied to prevent the USA from signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 (to control greenhouse gases), also influencing other countries, such as China and India, not to sign as well.  It has spent $30 million on think tanks that promote climate denial, according to Greenpeace. Hall’s article provides data that suggests that half of the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere have been released since 1988.  If ExxonMobil had been upfront about the issue in those early years, there could have been so much more progress on climate change than there has been.  The company obviously had vested interests in opposing the scientific evidence but they now have a lot to answer for. And there are now rumours that Shell is under investigation for doing a similar thing.

It has recently been reported that one of the major American charitable foundations (Rockefeller Family Fund) has announced that it will cease to invest its funds in fossil fuels and, in doing so, made the following statement: “We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil”.33

Table 3 shows that there are three energy companies amongst the 10 largest companies in the world and the top British company, BP, is the 17th largest in the world.  Energy companies obviously have much to lose once the issue of carbon emissions is properly dealt with by global agreements to reduce them.  ExxonMobil would have better spent their $30 million researching into new forms of renewable energy; it is currently worth more than $300 billion.

Table 3: Largest 25 companies in the world (from google images and


Carbon Majors – the companies who emit the most greenhouse gases

90 carbon majors have been identified as being the major emitters of the greenhouse gases that are primary drivers of climate change.  Since 1751, they have produced 65% of the world’s total industrial carbon dioxide emissions according to a study by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute34.  The 90 majors include 50 private companies, 31 state-owned companies and 9 nations. Twenty-one are based in the US, 17 in Europe (five in the UK), six in Canada, two in Russia and one each in Australia, Japan, Mexico and South Africa. Of the state-owned companies, Saudi Aramco has the highest emissions, followed by Gazprom (Russia), National Iranian Oil Company, Pemex (Mexico) and British Coal. The top 10 carbon majors are:

Chevron USA, ExxonMobil USA, Saudi Aramco Saudi Arabia, British Petroleum (BP) UK, Gazprom Russian Federation, Royal Dutch Shell, National Iranian Oil Company Iran, Pemex Mexico, British Coal Corporation UK and ConocoPhilips USA  For full details of these companies, and where they rank, are given by Greenpeace35.

Last September Greenpeace Philippines were so concerned about the devastation caused in their country by a major typhoon, that they filed a human rights complaint to the Commission of Human Rights, against the 50 largest multi-national private companies36.

The Volkswagen deception

ExxonMobil has not been the only large corporation to deceive the public on the issue of carbon emissions.  Just recently, it has come to light that the large German car-manufacturing company, Volkswagen, has tried to avoid green regulations and tests by fitting its cars with devices to cheat the emissions tests carried out on vehicles. The scandal has resulted in Volkswagen shares falling by 40%.  This deception is akin to the deception propagated by ExxonMobil, described earlier, where large and successful companies have used their trading links to make money for themselves at the expense of the health of the planet.  One wonders how many more companies will come to light which are carrying out similar deceptions for selfish reasons.

Earlier this year, a new independent organisation was set up in London (, to map, analyse and score the extent to which corporations are influencing climate change policy. An article in ExaroNews37 published in 2015, reported that research from InfluenceMap has demonstrated that car manufacturers (especially those in Germany) have been lobbying strongly against climate-change policy, especially those who have made little progress in complying with future standards for emissions of CO2 in the EU and US.  The InfluenceMap article ranks car makers according to their compliance with the 2020 standard on emissions, with Nissan coming top, followed by Honda, Renault and Peugeot.  According to the report, the world’s 12 biggest car manufacturers would be facing fines of $35.7 billion if the 2020 rules on emissions were to be applied now, with Volkswagen paying more than any of them, at $9.5 billion. Car manufacturer Mercedez-Benz has admitted that meeting the 2020 emission standards poses a technological strain (also reported in ExaroNews).  One wonders why none of them have acted sooner to develop greener cars, as some of the Japanese manufacturers have done.

Trade and Competition 1

The problem is that trading evokes a competitive spirit, even in the largest and most affluent companies, and the temptation to cheat can be persuasive.  As well as the deceptions already mentioned, there has been the development of parallel economies, in which companies try to evade taxes and tariffs by investing their profits in offshore accounts.  There are many people throughout the world who try to avoid national taxes by setting up their own parallel economies.  They contribute to an underground economy or “black market”, which is a market consisting of all commerce on which applicable taxes and/or regulations of trade are being avoided.  It includes many multi-national businesses, as well as those involved in the growing and selling of illegal drugs.

Because trading has become an endemic part of the global economy, embargos on goods are often used as powerful political weapons to bring other countries “into line”.  Examples of this are the embargos on South African goods during the apartheid era and that currently being imposed on Russia because of its occupation of the Crimean region of the Ukraine.

The competition for markets associated with trade has far-reaching effects across the globe.  Politicians talk about it as being a vital part of the economy and in so doing, they encourage this competitive spirit.  Its linkages into the economy and how trade-associated competition is making global warming and climate change worse, will be discussed later in this chapter and in chapter 7.

The whole trading scenario reaches into many aspects of life and plays just as important a role in the development of climate change, as the industrial revolution has done.


Oil has also come to dominate global trading systems, with prices being hiked by the oil-producing countries, with non-oil-producing countries being held to ransom.  Most governments fear that having no access to oil will impair their ability to manufacture and to trade, and thus impact on their national economies. The fear of losing access to oil has had a huge impact on national decision-making and the willingness to go to war to wipe out regimes who have large oil resources and who are not friendly to the western world.  All of these fears, and the actions associated with them, are futile really because, if we are to save the planet, we need to stop using oil and other fossil fuels, by leaving them in the ground, and to replace them with renewable forms of energy.  Perhaps ExxonMobil and BP and other oil producing companies still need to learn this.

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Fig. 35  An oil well

Further details about the movement of oil around the world (in terms of imports and exports) are shown on the Carbon Brief website38, which appears to show that exports of oil were still increasing in 2014, compared with 2004.

At present, oil-producing countries have the upper hand but I do not see this as lasting, as there is a move to using non-carbon-emitting forms of energy, such as solar panels and wind, tidal and water-based energy.  This could completely change the whole dynamic of global trading.  If they seize the opportunity, some African countries in Saharan and sub-Saharan regions, could move from being poverty-bound regions, to replacing the oil-producing countries in the pecking order, by becoming leaders in producing and supplying cleaner forms of energy, such as solar power.  Chile has already made a start by building a “farm” of solar panels in a desert area; this already supplies enough energy for one of their largest cities.

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Fig. 36 Solar power farm in Chile 

 The trend towards renewable forms of energy has put some of the multi-national energy companies into a panic, as they search frenetically for oil and/or gas in more and more remote places, such as the Arctic.

There is a saddening history of how oil has damaged the environment and some animal and bird species, through oil slicks and spillages, yet the competitive urge to find new places to drill for oil and other gases continues unabated.  The following three photographs show some of the consequences of oil spillage.

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Fig. 37  

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Fig. 38

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Another area of concern is the new practice of fracking where licences have already been obtained to carry out this practice, which releases natural gas from under the ground in areas very close people’s homes.  Further information and an interactive map of the areas of the UK and Ireland affected by this can be found at the website:

News stories from Canada and America suggest that fracking there is linked to significant earthquakes

News stories from Canada and America suggest that fracking there is linked to significant earthquakes.

 Market Economies

The major change in trading systems across the world, since before the industrial revolution, has impacted substantially on the way of life and the economies of most nations of the world, so that whole economies are now based on trading patterns, potential markets and import/export ratios.  Indeed, the description of a market economy is considered by some to be a progressive form of government.  It is based on the concept of demand and supply, where governments encourage those companies in their trade who are meeting an overseas demand for their goods.  The income they receive from overseas is seen to help the balance of payments and to bring about economic growth.

What a market economy fails to do is to analyse, and meet the needs of, its own people, especially those who are in poverty, with no goods to sell. The excuse for failing to help those in most poverty is that there will be a trickle-down effect; in reality this rarely happens.

What does happen is that the rich get richer at the expense of the poor.

Market economies are based on the encouragement of free trade, which is thought by 93% of economists to be a good thing (Ian Fletcher (2010)39 but, as argued by Fletcher, it has led to a situation where some developed nations have huge trade gaps, or deficits, Britain being one of them. This has occurred mainly because some of the developing nations pay much lower wages to their industrial workers and can therefore produce and sell their goods at more competitive prices than those of the developed nations. In 2014 the trade deficit of the U.S.A. was $508,324 billion.  Fletcher makes a case for rethinking and reforming current trade policies, by debunking some of the cherished assumptions held by mainstream economists. In the UK, the trade deficit for manufactured goods is higher than that of most other European countries but, in the past, politicians have worked to reduce the deficit by implementing austerity measures, rather than by rethinking our trade policies altogether, introducing localisation policies and making the reduction of carbon emissions a priority.

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) provides data which shows that the balance of trade in goods in the UK has shown a deficit in all but six years since 1900.  They recorded net surpluses in the years 1980 to 1982, largely as a result of growth in exports of North Sea oil. Since then, however, the trade in goods account has remained in deficit (see Figure 40).



The trade deficit in the UK – from the Office of National Statistics

Figure 41 shows that Britain’s trade in services is doing much better than its trade in goods.


Fig.41 – From the Office of National Statistics

The trade deficit also impacts on crops and foodstuffs produced by our farmers.  In 2002, Dr Caroline Lucas, a Green MEP, wrote a report40 entitled “Stopping the Great Food Swap: Relocalising Europe’s Food Supply”. It was based on background research and support provided by Andy Jones and Vicki Hird of Sustain and from Colin Hines, author of “Localisation: a Global Manifesto, published in 200041.

Lucas’s report provides some astonishing data:

  • The UK imports 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat from the Netherlands and, in the same year, exports 33,100 tonnes of poultry meat to the Netherlands;
  • The UK imports 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb while exporting 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb;
  • In the UK in 1997, 125 million litres of milk was imported and 270 million litres exported;
  • In 1996, the UK imported 434,000 tonnes of apples, 202,000 tonnes of which came from outside the EU. Over 60% of UK apple orchards have been lost since 1970.

Thus, we are importing more agricultural goods than we actually export, and importing goods which we produce ourselves, yet our own farmers struggle to make an income. I have also come across figures which show that 46% of the food we eat is imported.

The report stated that trade-related transportation is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore significant in terms of climate change.

 In 2011, Rianne ten Veen, of GreenCreation, updated the Lucas report, providing more recent data, with three case studies on meat, milk and fruit, for the Counting the Costs series of reports42.

 The EU Common Agricultural Policy has been accused of creating a situation in which damage is caused to the environment and to rural livelihoods, by encouraging larger, more intensive farms at the expense of smaller, more sustainable ones and leading to the inhumane treatment of farm animals.  There is evidence that the transport of livestock and meat across Europe has led to diseases such as Foot and Mouth Disease and BSE being passed from one country to another. The system has led to an absurd situation, which rewards a few, very wealthy farmers, the supermarkets and multinational food companies at the expense of small and medium-scale farmers. It makes no economic sense.

Further data is available in the report, which concludes that this destructive globalisation needs to be replaced with a localisation that protects and rebuilds local economies across the world.

The organisation, Local Futures, has recently released a 16-page action paper, entitled Climate Change or System Change?43 which argues that globalisation (the deregulation of trade and finance through an ongoing series of “free trade” treaties) is the driving force behind climate change.  The document makes the case for an international move towards localisation and provides a list of the pro’s and con’s for both systems, showing that the advantages of localisation far outweigh the advantages of globalisation.  It provides evidence to demonstrate that globalisation:

  • Promotes unnecessary transport;
  • Promotes rampant consumerism;
  • Is making the food system a major climate-changer;
  • Replaces human labour with energy-intensive technologies;
  • Promotes energy-intensive urbanisation.

A recent book by Colin Tudge44 proposes a complete rethink of our approaches to farming, through “enlightened agriculture”, without wrecking the rest of the world.

Economic Growth

Economic growth is defined as an increase in the capacity of an economy to produce goods and services, compared from one period of time to another.  It is the long-term expansion of the productive potential of an economy.  The problem with this is that this type of growth (as with so-called progress) is dependent upon relying on producing more and more manufactured goods and finding overseas markets to sell them.  It all feeds into the IR Continuum, thus adding to further carbon emissions.

Growth is seen as a good thing by economists and politicians but, as with “progress”, it can’t be good if it is adding to carbon emissions and the destruction of the planet.  At present, success in national economies is measured using an index called the GDP (gross domestic product).  At the time of writing the growth in the GDP in the UK was 0.5% and, in the USA it was 1.5%.

In his book, “The Growth Illusion: how economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many, and endangered the planet” (1999), Richard Douthwaite5,45 sets out how a capitalist system can be redirected to fulfil society’s hopes by restructuring economies to be based on local rather than global imperatives.  Some of his ideas will be looked at further in a later chapter.

Social Businesses

The Nobel laureate, Muhamad Yunus has promoted the concept of social businesses, which are businesses with social objectives (Creating a world without poverty: by Muhammad Yunus, 2007)46. He believes that we need to recognize the real human being and his or her multi­faceted desires. In order to do that, we need a new type of business that pursues goals other than making personal profit – a business that is totally dedicated to solving social and environmental problems.  He gives three examples of social businesses:

  • One that manufactures and sells high-quality, nutritious food products at very low prices to a targeted market of poor and underfed children;
  • A social business that develops renewable-energy systems and sells them at reasonable prices to rural communities that otherwise can’t afford access to energy;
  • A social business that recycles garbage, sewage, and other waste products that would otherwise generate pollution in poor or politically powerless neighborhoods.

It may be owned by one or more individuals, either as a sole proprietorship or a partnership, or by one or more investors, who pool their money to fund the social business and hire professional managers to run it.

A social business might be defined as a non-loss, non-dividend business. Rather than being passed on to investors, the surplus gener­ated by the social business is reinvested in the business. Ultimately, it is passed on to the target group of beneficiaries in such forms as lower prices, better service, and greater accessibility. Not only does the investor get his money back, he still remains an owner of the company and decides its future course of action.

It is not known whether a social business feeds into the IR continuum as much as traditional businesses do but, because there are social and/or environmental objectives, one suspects that the carbon footprint will be much reduced because those who run the business are not there to make profit for themselves but to improve society.  The Fair Trade movement also has social objectives.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development


The OECD is a forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies work with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development.

In recent years there has been an OECD move to start measuring economies according to their green growth.  In June 2009, ministers from these 34 countries with market economies signed a Green Growth Declaration47, declaring that they will: “Strengthen their efforts to pursue green growth strategies as part of their responses to the crisis and beyond, acknowledging that green and growth can go hand-in-hand.” They endorsed a mandate for the OECD to develop a Green Growth Strategy, bringing together economic, environmental, social, technological, and development aspects into a comprehensive framework. The Strategy was published in 2011 and formed part of the OECD contributions to the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012.

The strategy identified the following as being the most polluting industries with the greatest CO2 emissions:

  • Air transport;
  • Water transport;
  • Electricity, gas and water;
  • Coke, refined petrol and nuclear fuel;
  • Land transport;
  • Basic metals;
  • Non-metallic mineral products.

The document outlines ways to achieve international co-operation on the strategy and ways to monitor green progress.  It is a significant document47.

I would support the introduction of a new measure – a green GDP – which assesses only productivity associated with products which do not add to the total global emissions of CO2 and other pollutants.  Thus countries’ outputs could be compared using both metrics:

  • The normal GDP
  • The green GDP

The OECD suggestion of monitoring the green GDP would give incentives to nations to lower their carbon emissions and to focus on developing products which run on clean energy or which can be manufactured with minimal emissions.

 Another form of trading of the last few decades is in world currencies and commodities.  National currencies vary from day-to-day, according to the world economic situation, and some people speculate in buying and selling currencies, like a kind of international casino.  It is a form of risk that titillates the human need for excitement and intellectual entertainment, as does speculation on stock markets and commodities. But it can also help an individual to make money at the expense of some countries with fragile economies.

National Self-Sufficiency

So, what the industrial revolution and its continuum has done, is to set into place trading systems, and a merchant culture, that it will be difficult to reverse.  The most stable system would be for each nation to provide for itself – to become self-sufficient, only buying from overseas those products which cannot be sourced at home – but we are a long way from that ever becoming a reality. It is said that the UK at the moment can only produce goods that meet 60% of its needs.  Is self-sufficiency a realistic target to aspire to?  Could it be reached within the three generations that we have left?



A local farmer’s market (From clipart)

Britain’s Responsibility

As with the Industrial Revolution, Britain is again responsible for setting into play an international trading system that now runs out of control, feeding the IR continuum, and contributing to increasing levels of carbon emissions.  Britain started it off but, because it is a small country with limited resources, it has long been left behind by the larger countries with vast resources of mineral and fossil-fuel wealth.  Britain tries to keep pace with the larger, resource-rich countries but is really fighting a losing battle.  It would be much better placed in leading the world in finding ways of becoming self-sufficient, supporting its own farmers and reducing carbon emissions.  And by modifying its economy to support those in most need and in developing green products.

Recently in the news has been the collapse of the UK Steel industry, due to cheap imports from China.  Rather than trying to shore up outdated plants, which use fossil fuels to make steel, Britain would be better off using governmental investment to lead the world in developing a carbon-free steel.

Trading and Competition 2

I mentioned earlier in this chapter the competitive spirit that trade engenders.  I admit that Britain started trading in this way in the nineteenth century, by making use of its empire links, because it wanted to get a competitive edge over other nations.  Other countries, who have followed suit and come to dominate trading systems, have also done so for competitive reasons.  Indeed, it is almost impossible to separate the concept of a market economy from the concept of competition and rivalry.  But, unless, the nations of the whole world stop competing with their neighbours and reinforcing the IR Continuum, then we will no longer be here to compete against each other.

Global co-operation is what is needed at the moment, not competition; Britain needs to join forces with its neighbours to save the planet.

In a recent TEDx speech,”Why We Need to rethink Capitalism”, Paul Tudor Jones II48, formerly from big business himself, talked about a profit-led emphasis (to the exclusion of all else) that has led to a situation in which the concept of humanity has been removed from the corporate world.  He said that profit margins, at 12.5%, are currently at a 40-year high and that higher profit margins exacerbate income inequality, with the US having the greatest levels of inequality in the world. He demonstrated a strong link between income inequality and a series of social health metrics. He described a new way of corporate behaviour (The Just Index), in which the public are given a voice.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

TTIP is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the US and the EU.  It is a bi-lateral trade agreement and is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business and includes things like: food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations.  The Independent49 lists six reasons why we should oppose TTIP:

The British NHS, as a public institution, is at risk, as one of the aims is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies, which could mean the privatisation of the NHS;

  • Food and Environmental Safety: the TTIP’s agenda is to seek to bring European standards on food and the environment, closer to those of the US. But US regulations are much more lenient, with 70% of processed food sold in US supermarket containing ingredients that have been genetically modified. The US also has very lax laws about the use of pesticides and the feeding of growth hormone to cattle;
  • Banking Regulations: it is feared that TTIP will remove current restrictions on banks imposed after the 2009 financial crisis;
  • Privacy: after a huge public backlash, the European parliament did not agree to an anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA), which would have allowed internet service providers to monitor people’s on-line activities. It is possible that TTIP may bring this back.
  • Jobs: the EU has admitted that TTIP may bring in unemployment, as US has weaker labour standards and trades union rights.
  • Democracy; this is the greatest threat that would be brought in with TTIP, as it will allow companies to sue governments, if those governments’ policies cause a loss of profits.

It would appear that TTIP will allow the big US corporations, already responsible for huge emissions of CO2, to be given a free reign to wreak havoc in Europe as well.

 The Merchant Culture

In the End Piece to my first book and the introduction to this book, I stated that the world had been taken over by merchants – people who trade in all kinds of goods for their own benefit – and how this was destroying the world.  I still hold this opinion, 22 years after first making the observation.  The world is still controlled by merchants, as well as the greed and acquisitiveness that often accompanies this merchant culture. Unless this is addressed, many of the measures described in this chapter and elsewhere in this book, will make no difference to the domino effect this merchant culture is having on the stability and sustainability of the planet.

A Downturn in Global Trading Systems?

A recent joint publication from the Centre for Economic Policy and Research and The Robert Schuman Centre for Research Studies50 suggests that there is currently a global trade slow down.  The document contains 20 properly scrutinised research papers, which all come to the conclusion that there is a downturn in global trading patterns. Various conclusions are drawn from this; for example, a rise in protectionism, another impending collapse of global markets etc.  Economists are obviously worried about this, as they think it will impede economic growth.  However, it may herald a worldwide trend in consumers realising there is a climate change crisis and subsequently reducing their consumption of imported goods, deciding not to adhere any more to a throw-away culture.

According to the World Bank, a brief review of the evidence suggests that both cyclical and structural factors have been important in explaining the recent slowdown in global trade51. With high-income countries accounting for some 65 percent of global imports, the lingering weakness of their economies five years into the recovery suggests that weak demand is still impacting the recovery in global trade. But they feel that weak demand is not the only reason as trade had become much less responsive to income growth, even prior to the crisis. There is some evidence to suggest that part of the explanation may lie in shifts in the structure of value chains, in particular between China and the United States, with a higher proportion of the value of final goods being added domestically—that is, with less border crossing for intermediate goods. In addition, the post-crisis composition of demand has shifted from capital equipment to less import-intensive spending, such as consumption and government services.

I personally do not think that the downturn in global trade is a disaster; indeed, it may herald a new way forward, which has a glimmer of hope of saving the planet.

This whole issue is discussed further in chapters 5 and 7.



























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Human Inventiveness and the Concepts of Progress and Freedom


Human inventiveness

The “IR” continuum of development, which has continued unrelentingly since the industrial revolution began, demonstrates the huge human potential to invent, explore, manufacture, develop, innovate and improve – something that we can be proud of as the species which has come to dominate this planet. Human achievements are extraordinary and the potential to continue in a similar vein is tempting and attractive, each generation wanting to better the one before and each nation wanting to do better than its rivals. But somehow, we need to differentiate between natural pride in our achievements, curiosity, the desire to invent more and more complex gadgets and the need for responsibility.  Otherwise human inventiveness becomes a continuum of its own and a weapon of our own destruction.

One of the best examples of this is, perhaps, the situation we find ourselves in, as a result of space travel and satellite technology.  The picture below, recently featured in a BBC Horizon programme, in which we were informed that there are 22,000 large objects circulating the planet, each travelling (hurtling) at 17,000mph.  The result of collisions could be catastrophic, yet there is currently no law governing space operations. At the moment about 120 new satellites are launched every year and are used for all kinds of purposes, from GPS systems to TV programmes linking events happening across the world and drone warfare. Some of them are just debris remaining from previous space missions. Only recently part of an American space rocket washed up in the Isles of Scilly.


Fig. 29: Picture showing Space junk circling the earth (European Space Agency) See also the animated video at from the Royal Institution

The idea of launching rockets, space stations and satellites into space is exciting for us as a species but, over the last 40-50 years, it has been carried out with no forethought, no cohesion, inadequate co-operation between nations and with no real plan to mop up the debris it has created. In fact, in the early days, it was carried out in competition between nations, America and the Soviet Union each wanting to be the first to put a man into space or on the moon.  This is only one issue where there is a need for more, and better, co-operation between nations.  In a way, the image is a dramatic reminder of how man, left to his own devices, has messed with the planet almost irrevocably.


Fig 30: The launch of a space rocket (from

 The Concept of Progress

Everything that has happened since the beginning of the industrial revolution has been seen as progress. But is this so-called progress really progress at all or is it a hedonistic route leading to the destruction of the planet? This is assuming that we do not destroy each other in a fight for supremacy in the process.  One of the voices raised against those who warn that we need to live more simply, is that we cannot ignore progress and return to the times before the industrial revolution, which were not as comfortable as the times we live in today. It is seen as a backward step. And I am definitely not advocating that we return to the way things were before the industrial revolution.

So, let’s have a look at this idea of progress and what it really means. Perhaps it means different things to different people. Perhaps it is being used to justify practices that are dangerous to the planet and to our future existence, for many have benefited financially from the relentless IR Continuum.

The word “progress” itself gives a feeling of dynamism and of continuous advances and improvements.  But, if these advances are not beneficial to the global population as a whole, and its many species, then they cannot be described as progress at all but are more accurately described as “destructiveness” or “dissolution”. I would therefore like to re-define the word “progress” to: making advances that benefit society and the global population”.  With this new definition, we could still include advances in technology, such as the development of forms of renewable energy and some medical advances, as progress. But everything else should not be deemed as progress at all.

Freedom of Choice

Along with “progress” another word that is attractive to us as a species is the concept of “freedom” or “free-will”. Individuals like to be able to have a choice about what they do and to have the freedom to engage in whatever it is that fascinates them, whether it be space technology, weaponry, driving fast cars, inventing new machines or just taking a holiday abroad. But freedom has to be accompanied by responsibility, or it just becomes selfishness.  Any suggestion that we should curb our lifestyles is opposed rigorously. Yet unpopular legislation that has happened in the past (like seat-belt legislation, MOT testing of vehicles and the rationing of food after the Second World War) has eventually led to greater safety and more responsible behaviour. In an effort to reduce the number of plastic carrier bags littering the world, some supermarkets have recently started to charge for these. A good idea but I have been gobsmacked at the negative response to this in some quarters.

Two Opposing Dynamics

I believe that there are two dynamics in operation here.  On the one hand there is the wondrous beauty of the world that we live in, a world where everything fits harmoniously together in the cycles, webs and relationships described in chapter 1. And, on the other hand, there are the mind-boggling achievements of the human race, developed through our special intelligence, which sets us apart from other species.  The two dynamics are juxtaposed but, as yet, not in harmony.  Can we, as intelligent human beings, find a way forward in which our inventiveness and inquisitiveness and (yes) greed, does not destroy the beautiful world in which we live, before we end up destroying ourselves and the habitats we, and the creatures we share this planet with, live in?

The two opposing dynamics in juxtaposition



Britain’s role in saving the Planet

Furthermore, since Britain was the country to introduce industrialisation to the world, I believe it should also play a major leadership role in finding ways to reduce the damaging effects of carbon emissions and other pollutants (methane, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrous oxide, black carbon particulates, nuclear materials) produced by industrial economies.  And, in a similar vein, perhaps the responsibility of clearing up space junk should rest with the space-pioneering countries, America and Russia and, to a lesser extent, Europe.

During the 1940s-50s, one of the problems faced by Britain was smog – a thick, dense fog that descended on our cities, making breathing difficult and reducing the ability to see where you were going. A powerful memory from my childhood was a time when smog had descended so thickly that we could not find our way home; my sister and I therefore decided (perhaps unwisely) to take a bus; the bus did eventually arrive but the smog was so thick that the driver could not see the kerb and the bus conductor had to walk alongside the bus with a torch, to help the driver to see the way ahead. It took us hours to get home and, in those days, there were no mobile phones to reassure parents that we were OK.

Smog was caused by factory pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, and government legislation was brought in to limit the emission of such chemicals and, as a result, smog has not been the same problem that it was during my childhood. That particular era demonstrates that it is possible to reduce the harmful effects of industrialisation. However, we still see a haze of pollutants in the skies over many of the major cities of the world.  It was observing the cloud of haze over many of the cities of the world during my 1994 world trip that made me realise that one day I would have to raise awareness about it.  It has taken me 22 years to take such action but I do hope that the action required to save the planet does not take another 22 years.


Fig.32: People in China wearing masks due to the urban pollution there

Interestingly, I am not the only person to use the smog era as an example of what can be done if the motivation is there, through the British legislation at that time to prevent further smog. Prof. Paul Rogers, in his ORG Special briefing to the Oxford Research Group30 and his lecture at the Imperial War Museum (2012) has also cited it, together with three other examples of actions that can be introduced to alleviate the worst effects of human activity. The following are four of his examples:

  • Municipal engineers like Sir Joseph Bazelgette were already working on plans for proper sewage disposal in the squalid and cholera-ridden London of the 1850s, but it took the “Great Stink” of the 1858 summer to prompt sustained and effective action, with London leading the way for many other cities and resulting in sustained improvements in health.
  • A century later, 4,000 people died in 1952 in the four-day “Great Smog of London” but this prompted radical improvements in air pollution control across Britain that were already being called for.
  • Atmospheric chemists and the UN Environment Programme were already pointing to the dangerous effect of CFC pollutants on the world’s ozone layer in the late 1970s, and, partly because of this, the discovery of the extent of the Antarctic “ozone hole” in 1983 prompted a rapid international response, with the global Montreal Convention signed just four years later.
  • Even at the height of the Cold War, the shock of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was a major factor in leading the US and the Soviet Union to a welcome process of trust building and some key agreements, including the Partial Test Ban Treaty, as well as leading to a political climate that helped bring about the Non-Proliferation Treaty

The move of populations throughout the world to cities has also led to urban sprawl and cities becoming more and more industrialised.  Pollution of the atmosphere around cities is very evident.  A recent article in the Financial Times31, reporting on studies at Kings College London, claimed that up to 9,400 Londoners per year die prematurely because of breathing in pollutants commonly found in fumes from diesel trucks, buses and cars. Thus Londoners are more likely to be killed by the air they breathe than in a car accident.  During 2010, more than 3,000 people were admitted to hospital with breathing and heart problems related to air pollution.

So, in summary then, human inventiveness, whilst being a remarkable feature of the human species, can also have its downside.  Not all inventiveness should be seen as progress. We need to develop as a species a new quality – that of being able to assess what destruction unregulated-inventiveness might bring and acting responsibly as a result.  We do still have a beautiful world, even though it is in danger.  Can I add another dynamic to the picture. Is this achievable?


Fig.33: The three dynamics in balance

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The industrial revolution


The most significant development, which is being linked to the environmental changes we are seeing in our world is the industrial revolution, so I will deal with it in some depth from an historical point of view, so we can all see how it came about and how it is still continuing.

Britain is considered to have been the birthplace of the industrial revolution which, historians say, took place during the period of 1760 to 1840.  Before this, societies were mainly rural and the daily existence of small communities revolved around farming.  Life was difficult, with the majority of people on low incomes, so many were malnourished and diseases were rife. People produced most of their own food, clothing, furniture and tools, with manufacturing (cottage industries) being carried out in homes or in small, rural shops, using hand tools or simple machines.  The industrial revolution was to completely turn this around, having an impact on every family in the land and on their way of life.

Several factors contributed to Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It had great deposits of coal and iron ore, which proved essential for industrialisation and it was a politically stable society. At the time, it was also the world’s leading colonial power, which meant that its colonies could serve as sources of raw materials, as well as a marketplace for manufactured goods.  As demand for British goods grew, merchants needed better methods of production, which led to the rise of mechanization and the whole factory system.

One of the first inventions to spark the industrial revolution was in the textile industry: by the spinning “jenny”, invented by an Englishman James Hargreaves in 1764. It was later improved on by others, and led to the power loom, which mechanised the process of weaving cloth, leading to the production of textiles on a wide-scale.  Industrialisation of the textiles industry meant that some craftspeople were replaced by machines. This led to the Luddite Rebellion in 1811-1813, in which textile workers protested against the newly developed labour-economizing technologies which replaced them with less-skilled, low-waged labourers, leaving the craftsmen without work.

Industrialisation of the textile industry was followed soon after by the development of the iron industry. Englishman Abraham Darby discovered a cheaper, easier method to produce cast iron, using a coke-fuelled furnace and then, in the 1850s, British engineer Henry Bessemer developed the first inexpensive process for mass-producing steel. Both iron and steel became essential materials, used to make everything from appliances, tools and machines, to ships, buildings and infrastructure.

Fig.16: Image of the Industrial revolution in Britain

The steam engine was integral to the industrialisation process. In 1712, Englishman Thomas Newcomen had developed the first practical steam engine (which was used primarily to pump water out of mines) but, by the 1770s, Scottish inventor, James Watt, had improved on this and the steam engine went on to power machinery, locomotives and ships in the years that were to follow.  Some say that the steam engine represented a second phase of the industrial revolution though many of these new technologies did overlap.

 Coal mining became a major industry in the 19th century, as coal and/or coke was needed to power up the factories, as well as the engines running the railways and steamships.

The Industrial Revolution brought about a greater volume and variety of factory-produced goods and raised the standard of living for many people, particularly for the middle and upper classes. However, life for the poor and working classes continued to be difficult. Wages for factory workers were low and working conditions could be dangerous and monotonous. Unskilled workers had little job security and were easily replaceable. Children were part of the labour force, often working long hours and involved in hazardous tasks. In the early 1860s, one-fifth of the workers in Britain’s textile industry were younger than 15.


Fig.17 Children working in a textiles factory (From:

Children in the coal mines

Fig.18: Young boys working as miners during the industrial revolution


Additionally, urban, industrialised areas were unable to keep pace with the flow of workers arriving from the countryside, resulting in inadequate, overcrowded housing and polluted, unsanitary living conditions in which disease was rampant. However, conditions for Britain’s working-classes began to gradually improve by the later part of the 19th century, as the government instituted various labour reforms and workers gained the right to form trade unions.

The invention of the steam engine led to significant improvements in transport, from largely horse-drawn methods to the introduction of steam-powered engines for ships and railways. Steam powered cars first appeared in the late 19th century but these were to be replaced later by the, more popular, petrol driven engines.

The Motor Car

The history of the development of the motor car is well-known to us, as is the rise in the use of motor cars in the last 100 years, which has been phenomenal, with many households now being 2 or 3-car families, or even more. The thing that underlines this to me is the change in the road where I grew up.  In the 1950’s, there were no parked vehicles on this road and goods were often delivered with horse-drawn vehicles.  When I last visited this street, in 2005, there were cars parked on both sides of the road, with room for only one vehicle to pass between them; woe betide if anything was coming the other way.  Traffic jams are now a world-wide phenomenon, particularly in capital cities.  My visits to Bangkok and Manila in 1994 were an eye-opener; in both of these cities, if you wanted to get anywhere by car and quickly, you had to leave home very early in the morning.


Fig.20 Takeover by the motor car

With petrol being a major culprit in contributing to carbon emissions, it would be expected that vehicles propelled by cleaner forms of energy would be starting to take over from petrol and diesel-driven vehicles but a chart published by Statista.com17 shows that the total number of new vehicles registered in the UK has been on the increase and few of these use alternative fuels. The actual numbers for the UK in 2014 were:


Petrol fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,184,409               47.8

Diesel fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,240,287                50.1

Alternative fuel vehicles new registrations               51,739                  2.1

So, the small increase in the use of alternative fuel is minimised by the continuing dominance of petrol and diesel fuelled vehicles and the ever-increasing overall numbers of cars being used on the roads.

From another source (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders – SMMT)18, I have obtained further information about the preferred type of alternatively-fuelled cars during 2014, compared with 2008 and 2011.  The figure below shows that there is an increase in purchase of these vehicles over the six-year period, with a 25% increase between 2013 and 2014.


Fig.20: SMMT New car registrations for 12-month periods 2008, 2011 and 2014

©2016 SMMT Ltd. All Rights Reserved        Source: AIS 0207 235 7000

The continuing increase in vehicles of all kinds on the roads may be as a result of increases in the human population, or in an increased interest in driving by the developing countries of the world, as they try to catch up with the lifestyles of the developed countries. However, a recent initiative by Mexico City, to reduce the amount of pollution and smog in their capital city, has been to ban all vehicles from their roads for one day per week.

In the Netherlands in 2013, 1.4% of car sales were fully-electric vehicles and the Netherlands are currently second in the world (behind Norway) in adopting the highest number of fully electric plug-in vehicles19. Owners of these vehicles are already eligible for tax breaks and parking spots – a not surprising development in view of the vulnerability of this country to flooding as sea levels rise. A number of Dutch politicians are proposing the banning of gas and diesel-powered vehicles from 202520.

The large-scale production of chemicals, then cement, glass making and gas lighting also began during the industrial revolution.  Communication became easier with inventions, such as the telegraph and, in 1866, a telegraph cable was successfully laid across the Atlantic.

Thus Britain was the seat of these massive changes in industrialisation but it was not long before it spread, first to countries in Western Europe and then to America, being well established in these countries by the mid-19th century.  By the early 20th century, America had become the world’s leading industrial nation and remains so. Japan’s industrial revolution began in about 1870 but other large eastern nations followed much later. China’s was not until 1979 to 2000 and it still continues to escalate. India came under the East India Company at the time of the start of the Industrial Revolution in Britain, so there was some technological progress (such as the introduction of railways, canals, modern banks and postal system) but no significant advances during the 19th and 20th centuries, due to problems caused by some major famines and factional rivalries and wars, though India has been a major supplier of raw materials to Britain.

However, there are some people who believe that Britain’s colonisation of India and the sequestration of its resources, set that country back years, leading to the destruction of many forests, loss of land rights and the subversion of its education and cultural traditions, especially associated with arts and science (W. Pereira and J. Seabrook, 19964,21.

‘Follow Green Living’22 talks about the Uttarakhand (flooding) disaster, which was caused by deforestation. The World Wildlife Fund has stated that every minute, forest area equivalent to 36 football fields is lost, along with 137 species of plants, animals and insects, which totals 50,000 species a year.


Fig 21: INDIAN weavers at the 1886 colonial and Indian exhibition in South Kensington; copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Fig.22: Deforestation in India

Some countries have still not become industrialised and continue to be mainly agrarian, rural or nomadic communities.

Other changes associated with the industrial revolution

During the industrial revolution there were changes in the economy, society and culture, perhaps some of the most significant changes in human history. It was much more than just a mechanization drive. It was also an epoch in European social history that characterized the transition from feudalism to capitalism and the development of the latter. So, there was a change from family-based economies, organised around and within agrarian communities, to an economy organised around a factory system, dependent on owners and managers, and on businesses and their productivity. The factory replaced the home as the centre of production. The industrialists running factories pressured governments to spend money on infrastructure (railways, roads, shipping etc), to foster free trade between nations, and not to interfere with businesses and the way factories were run. This change in the focus of the economy will be discussed in more detail in chapter 7.

The industrial revolution also saw the rise of banks and industrial financiers. A stock exchange was established in London in the 1770s; the New York Stock Exchange was founded in the early 1790s. In 1776, Scottish social philosopher Adam Smith, who is regarded as the founder of modern economics, published “The Wealth of Nations.”23 In it, Smith promoted an economic system based on free enterprise, the private ownership of means of production, and lack of government interference.  In the 21st century we have seen how the increasing power of banks has upset the balance of the economy, leading to vast profits for bankers at the expense of the average person.

So there have been many downsides to the industrial revolution, not the least of which has been the concomitant changes that have occurred to the earth’s ecosystems, its biosphere, to global temperature and to the earth’s climate.

The Industrial Revolution (IR) Continuum

Historians now say that the industrial revolution was followed by a second one, which continued from 1870 to 1914, with advances in technology, and a 3rd one later which included the digitisation of manufacturing and the internet and others are now saying that we are entering a 4th industrial revolution, marked by further advances in technology, which will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another – included in this revolution will be advances in green technology.  I personally don’t think it is helpful to divide the industrial revolution into historical eras.  This is because I believe that the chain of events the first industrial revolution initiated have continued to the present day. I call this process, which is still ongoing, the IR Continuum (ie the continuation of the first industrial revolution) and will use this name throughout the rest of this book.

Let’s look at a few of the things that have been invented since the late nineteenth century which, along with the industrial revolution, have changed the face of this planet and had a large impact on our experience as human beings living here.

  1. Electricity

The invention of electricity and the introduction of light bulbs by Edison in 1879 made a huge impact of the human way of life, as it extended the length of the day in which we could be active, from early morning until well into the evenings, as well as enabling people to work night shifts.


Fig 23: The development of the light bulb had a huge impact on society

The light bulb was followed by labour-saving devices, all powered by electricity; things for the home, such as washing machines and later dish-washers and the development of radio and television, as well as the motor car and other inventions described later in this chapter.  Whilst the motor car is powered by a petrol or diesel engine, electricity is needed to maintain and circulate that power.

 The problem with electricity of course is that, to generate it, we have been burning fossil fuels. And nuclear energy, now often promoted as a clean source of energy, is not the answer either as it has its own dangers from accidents (as in Chernobyl and Fukushima) as well as problems and dangers associated with disposal of nuclear waste. The present preferred means of generating energy are solar power, wind or water power but, as yet, they contribute to only a small proportion of electricity generation (see figure below, where renewable energy is marked as RE) and globally the proportion is even lower than that of the UK (see  Fig. 25)24.



Figure 24 shows UK electricity generation by fuel type since 1960.  In 2014, the UK electricity mix was 31% coal, 31% gas, 19% renewable and 18% nuclear. Chart by Carbon Brief using DECC data.  From CarbonBrief website: and

And an interesting development in 2016 (also reported by Carbon Brief) is a 22% decline in coal use in the UK since 2014, coal now being replaced by renewables and nuclear power in the generation of electricity, as reported in The Guardian, 24th September 201525.

Changing to renewables is not a world-wide phenomenon, though.  The biggest problem is that the global use of energy continues to increase; it has tripled since 1965, as shown in figure 25, with coal, gas and oil being the major energy sources.


Fig.25 Global energy use by source, 1965-2014. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015. Chart by Carbon Brief: and

Despite the small proportion of renewable energy shown in the global graph, there is hope, as The Guardian recently reported26 that at least five countries have shown initiatives to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. For example: Uruguay gets 94.5% of its electricity from renewables, due to a hefty investment in wind, biomass and solar in recent years. Costa Rica went for 94 consecutive days earlier this year without using fossil fuel for energy at all, thanks to a mix of 78% hydropower, 12% geothermal and 10% wind. Iceland is able to tap geothermal sources for 85% of its heating, which with hydropower, enables this country to have 100% of its electricity from renewables. Paraguay has one huge hydropower dam at Itaipu, which supplies 90% of its energy and Lesotho gets 100% of its electricity from a cascade of dams that have enough spare capacity to export power to South Africa.

  1. Plastics

The first substance that could be described as plastic was Parkesine, produced by Parkes in 1862.  It was highly flammable, so later versions followed, such as celluloid, bakelite, artificial silk, cellophane, polythene etc. The great advantage of plastics is that they can be moulded into any shape that is required and much of our life activities today are surrounded and influenced by plastics in one shape or another. The downside of plastics is that most are not biodegradable.  So, the world now has many rubbish dumps, landfill sites and tips, all containing plastics, as well as other kinds of rubbish, the best example being that of Smoky Mountain near Manila.  In Britain, we are rapidly running out of landfill sites in which to dispose of our rubbish.  And we are told that our oceans are full of plastics, which damage marine life and wash up on beaches across the world.


Fig.26: An Indian boy walks by the Arabian Sea near Mumbai, piled with mainly plastic rubbish

A young Dutch student may have come up with a cheap solution with which to clear the oceans of plastic rubbish, using the pre-existing ocean currents27 but this is not yet tried on a global scale and there would still be a problem of disposal, once the plastic is collected.

  1. Weaponry

During the industrial revolution, there was a big development of new forms of weaponry, with hand-held weapons becoming ever more sophisticated and playing a major part in the First World War (1914-18).  By the time of the Second World War (1939-45), there had been a development of bombs, as well as the aircraft to drop them on enemy targets.  This culminated in 1945 with the dropping of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 129,000 people immediately with many thousand others dying later as a result of nuclear fallout. Nuclear weapons have not been used in war since but are still owned by a number of countries, being used it is thought, as a deterrent to war.

Using weapons and bombs in war also has the effect of increasing carbon emissions.  For example, it has been calculated that, during the Iraq war, the total carbon emissions per year, as a result of the war, were higher than the emissions of 139 countries put together. This issue is of such importance that I have devoted a whole chapter to it (Chapter 6).

  1. Aviation

During the first half of the 20th century, there were huge advances in the manufacture of flying machines, first of all for early pioneers to fly over the great oceans but, later, to the development of passenger airlines, with some of the larger planes, such as the Airbus, now taking well over 500 passengers at a time.


Fig.27: The Airbus A380

In 1952, the first commercial jet flight took place and 24 years’ later, Concorde began its fascinating history.   Air travel has become so commonplace that it is now nothing special to fly to the other side of the world and back in a short space of time and to do it several times a year.

In her piece entitled “Counting the Cost”, written for the New Era Network in 200528 (and downloadable from their website, Molly Scott Cato MEP, a green economist, gave some compelling statistics about carbon dioxide emissions related to the aviation industry, the expansion of which has been completely unregulated.  Much of this increased usage of passenger airlines has been as a result of the expansion of tourism.  In 1990, CO2 emissions from aircraft accounted for about 2.4% of total emissions – they are projected to grow by another 3-7% by 2050 to approximately 10% of all emissions.  The entire transportation system accounts for about 25% of emissions. Global tourism increased from 8.5 million people in 1970 to 56.8 million in 2000. So, the current obsession with taking regular holidays (or mini-breaks) and flying around the world to some remote destination is a major contribution to the problems of global warming and climate change.  Yet, when people come into an unexpected financial windfall, the majority of them plan to use it first to take an overseas holiday. The effects of this on global warming are rarely thought of.  The airline industry is certainly not going to advertise their impact on climate change, for it might mean the loss of their business.

  1. Electronics, Space and the digital revolution

After the Second World War, we entered into an electronic era, the Space Age, satellite technology and the digital revolution, which began with the invention of the transistor in 1947, followed by computers, hard disks, microchips and microprocessors, recording devices for music and video/film, CDs, DVDs, iPODs, hand-held devices (calculators, 1972; mobile phones, 1983), computer games, smaller and smaller computers, the internet, computer software, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, smart phones, robots etc.

The development of space travel will be discussed further in the next chapter.

The Consumer Culture

The digital age has revolutionised the human way of life on a global scale, with vast advances in communication, which could never have been anticipated when the telegraph was first invented in the mid-1800s.  The downside of it is that some of the devices invented are superseded very rapidly by improved versions, leading to a throw-away culture, as people try to obtain the latest version of the devices they treasure.  All of this, of course, feeds into the escalation of the IR Continuum.

Whilst a significant number of people adhere to the consumer culture, wishing to have the latest invention in line with their friends and colleagues, there are those who are deeply concerned about it.  In fact, when I first talked about writing this book to some of my friends, the throw-away culture that we live in was the first thing that sprang to their minds.  Not only is it damaging to the planet, feeding into the IR Continuum and the accumulation of discarded items, it is also bound up with trading patterns and an obsession  with economic growth, as discussed in chapters 4 and 7.

Who are the worst polluters?

It is the industrialised countries that have contributed most to carbon emissions, though the whole world feels the effect of this.  And amongst the industrialised nations, some emit more per head than others.  Damon Matthews from Montreal in Canada has calculated climate debts for each country related to their population size. He sees those who pollute more than their fair share (i.e. above the global average), as being in climate debt.  From these calculations, the US leads the list by a long way, with the greatest climate debt, Russia is second and Japan third; the UK is the 6th worst polluter in the world29.  Other ways of presenting the data show the UK in first place (because we have been industrialised for longer).

However, in terms of individuals, the richest people in the world contribute to 85% of carbon emissions (see also in Chapter 5).


Fig.29: Picture showing different ages of man up to the present computer generation