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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Is it time for a Global Planetary Authority?

I have been reading a blog, written by Angus Forbes, on the website of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll), which exists to help bring about a transformation of the economic system, of society and of institutions so that all actors prioritise shared wellbeing on a healthy planet.

The WEAll Amp team

The piece by Angus Forbes is the first in a series of guest blogs, exploring a range of new ideas for how we can move forward and create a future economy with human and environmental wellbeing at its heart.  I will not copy it in its entirety but just give extracts here.  Those who want to respond to his ideas should do so in the comments section of his blog:

Guest blog: Is it time for a Global Planetary Authority? – by Angus Forbes

Here it is:

Two extraordinary things have just happened to the human race. The first is the understanding that we now run, along with Mother Nature, the life-support system of our planet. This is tantamount to a second Copernican revolution. The second is that we have now formed into a connected global citizenship.

From this point on, the future of both Earth and us humans is inextricably linked due to our size and power. So, we now have part responsibility for the planet’s ability to sustain life as we know it. We, yes, us humans, have to decide what the biophysical integrity of this planet will be in 2120, 3020, 4020 and thereafter.

We created our 200 countries though numerous acts of national self-determination when the global population was, on average, just under two billion (1924). Now we number just under eight billion people, we are urban, we are powerful and things have changed.

We now have a global problem that clearly cannot be handled by the system of independent countries and their multilateral organizations that we have created. For in the 50 years since the 1972 UN Stockholm Declaration which stated that the natural assets of Earth must be safeguarded, we have witnessed the accelerating destruction of our most valuable global asset, the biosphere. So something is structurally very wrong….

I am absolutely convinced that in order to protect the biosphere, we need a specialist global authority to do the job. We need to give it powers of regulation and revenue collection over all human organizational form (including the nation state) sufficient to impose the necessary biophysical boundaries for us all. Our new specialist authority will make decisions based on time frames different from those used by any existing human organization, i.e. 100, 500 and 1,000 years.

I believe that humanity is just about to embark upon our first act of global self-determination and enter the current void in global governance to create this authority. In 2022, 32 years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee wrote the computer program HTML and gave us the World Wide Web, five billion of us will be connected to each other via the internet. Five billion global citizens who are only seconds apart…..”

It is interesting that I have just been sent the link to this piece, for I was at a workshop two nights ago, with presentations from different people involved in various ways to try to reduce the impact of climate change. One spoke about upskilling people to do green jobs, another talked about the importance of supply chains and another about reparation needed for those countries who were most affected by climate change but who had done nothing themselves to cause it.  This last speaker used the following phrase: “We need a global reset of systems rather than carrying on as things are at present.”  Perhaps what she was saying is similar to Angus Forbes comments above.

I am not an economist but, for a long time, I have realised that national and global economies need to be reformed.  You will find my comments on this in my book and in several blogs posted on this site.  I have been hoping that progressive economists would get together and tease out a workable structure that will reform the way economics is taught and implemented.  Maybe the Wellbeing Economy Alliance is a body that could take this forward.



And this morning I have been sent a link to another publication on a similar theme:

“Economics: a Crash Course: become an Instant Expert” by David Boyle and Andrew Simms, available for £9.69 at:

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/David-Boyle/Economics-A-Crash-Course–Become-An-Instant-Expert/23812700



 


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The Truth about Heatwaves: 3

In three previous blogs, I have discussed heatwaves and their effects on land, over the oceans and their effects on human survivability.

In this (4th) blog, I am going to provide more data linking heatwaves in the UK with a spike in the number of deaths, especially in the elderly, the young and those with specific health issues – vulnerable groups.

After the 2018 heatwave, The Guardian, published an analysis of this, based on official statistics; it can be seen at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/03/deaths-rose-650-above-average-during-uk-heatwave-with-older-people-most-at-risk

The following includes extracts from The Guardian article:


Nearly 700 more deaths than average were recorded during the 15-day peak of the heatwave in June and July 2018 in England and Wales.

The height of the heatwave was from 25 June to 9 July, according to the Met Office, a run of 15 consecutive days with temperatures above 28C. The deaths registered during the weeks covering this period were 663 higher than the average for the same weeks over the previous five years, a Guardian analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics shows.

beachJuly 2018

ONS analysis for previous years indicate hundreds of additional deaths were associated with brief periods of heatwave conditions in July 2016 and June 2017. The full toll of the 2018 heatwave could reach 1,000, according to one prediction.

“While working in A&E this summer, I saw patients presenting with heatstroke and other conditions that were probably exacerbated by the hot weather, and this obviously places an additional strain on our already struggling health services,” she said.

Dehydration can lead to many issues, from dizziness and falls, to an increased risk of infections, heart attacks and strokes. The 2018 heatwave showed that hospitals and care homes must be made ready to cope with high temperatures.



Another article, published by the London School of Economics and Political Science last year, stated that people are dying of ignorance:

Hundreds are dying from ignorance of rising heatwave risks

The article states that many of these deaths could have been prevented if Government Departments and agencies had listened to the advice of experts and improved the shockingly poor flow of information to the public about the rising risk of heatwaves due to climate change.

There is evidence that many people perish each summer in the UK because they do not understand that the frequency of heatwave conditions are increasing.

The full death toll from summer 2018’s hot weather will not be known for a some time, but is likely to exceed 1000 based on what has happened in previous years.

It is a public health emergency about which nobody is talking. If more than 1000 people were killed in flooding, there would rightly be an outcry, particularly if many of the deaths could have been avoided.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine identified older people as being particularly vulnerable but also concluded that more people suffer in Greater London, South-East and East England. These are the hottest parts of the UK, and have been experiencing significant amounts of warming over the past few decades.

An assessment in 2014 found statistically significant increases in daily maximum, minimum and mean air temperatures between 1910 and 2011, with “the rate of change increasing from the north and west to the south and east”.

Public Health England published in 2015 an annual heatwave plan (PDF) and jointly operates, with the Met Office, the ‘Heat-Health Watch’ which issues warnings ahead of heatwave conditions occurring. However, the Met Office fails frequently to tell the public that climate change is increasing the risk of heatwaves in the UK.




Another report about the UK heatwave in 2019 had similar findings. It was from the Office for National Statistics (ONS):

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/articles/dosummerheatwavesleadtoanincreaseindeaths/2019-10-07

The number of deaths spiked on the hottest day of the summer, provisional official data shows.

There were 1,473 deaths on July 25 registered in England and Wales, rising from about 1,100-1,200 deaths per day around the same time, according to figures from the ONS.

July 25 saw temperatures reach 38.7C in Cambridge, breaking the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK.

The ONS was looking at whether “killer heatwave” news headlines are backed up by the data in a release called ‘Do summer heatwaves lead to an increase in deaths?’

The stats body cautioned that the May to August 2019 data is “highly provisional” due to the amount of time it can take for deaths to be registered, meaning the recorded number of deaths per day is likely to increase as more deaths are registered.

HEALTH Heatwave

While comparisons with previous years cannot yet be made using the recent summer’s data, the statisticians compared the number of deaths per day in summer 2018 with the five-year average (2013-18).

The ONS said: “The comparatively high number of deaths occur mainly on days that are defined as heatwaves by Public Health England (PHE) in their deaths relating to heatwaves report.”

These spikes tended to be followed by periods of lower-than-average deaths, the ONS said.

The report went on: “This means that at a daily level, extreme heat seems to have an impact on the number of deaths, but across the summer period as a whole the number of deaths is similar to previous years.

“This could be because the most vulnerable people, for example, those with pre-existing respiratory or cerebrovascular diseases are more susceptible to death during heatwaves.”

Even when taking into account the heatwaves, the effects of winter on mortality are consistently greater than summer, the report added.



Another Public Health England (PHE) report analysed the number of deaths during the 2016 heatwave.  It found an excess of 908 deaths during the heatwave periods, when the Met Office had issued heatwave alerts.  See:

Public Health England, “PHE Heatwave Mortality Monitoring: Summer 2016”, June 2018. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.
gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/714933/PHE_heatwave_mortality_monitoring_report_2016.pdf

The executive summary to the document is as follows:

Executive summary:

“Heatwaves are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. The health impacts of these events can be significant, particularly for vulnerable populations when excess mortality can occur. England experienced several heatwaves in the summer 2016. This report summarises the excess deaths observed throughout the heatwaves of summer 2016.

The summer of 2016 saw 3 Level 3 heatwave alerts issued by the Met Office. Excess
daily mortality was estimated using baseline death registration data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The first heatwave occurred from 18 July to 22 July 2016, where there were an estimated 612 excess deaths observed above baseline in the 65+ year olds. The second heatwave occurred between 22 August to 26 August 2016, where there were an estimated 296 excess deaths observed above baseline amongst 65+ year olds. The third and final heatwave of the summer 2016 occurred between 12 September and 17 September 2016, where there were no significant excess deaths observed. This resulted in a total estimate of 908 excess deaths over the summer 2016
period.”

The Conclusion to the report is as follows:

Conclusions
England observed 3 heatwave periods in 2016, with significant excess mortality impact in the >65 year olds decreasing in size and geographical extent with each heatwave across the summer. No significant impact was seen in the <65 year olds and the impact on mortality of 908 excess deaths was less than seen in 2006 (2,323 deaths) and 2003 (2,234 deaths). The UK has had a heatwave plan since 2004, the importance of which continues to be highlighted year on year.”



8th May 2020

Another Guardian report has reported on a new study, published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), in which they conclude that, within 50 years, one billion people will live in insufferable heat due to global warming.  This billion people will either be displaced or forced to endure insufferable heat for every additional 1 degree C rise in the global temperature.

The authors of the study were really shocked by the findings, as they had not expected the human species to be so vulnerable.  The Guardian article and the PNAS reference are as follows:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/05/one-billion-people-will-live-in-insufferable-heat-within-50-years-study?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMjAwNTA2&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=greenlight_email&utm_campaign=GreenLight

https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/04/28/1910114117

 



An article, published on May 17th 2020 in The Conversation discusses the concept of climate sensitivity, which is defined as “the relationship between changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and warming”.

They discuss the use of mathematical climate models to predict the amount of global warming in the future. If climate sensitivity is introduced to these models, there is a surprising and unexpected surge in temperatures in the future.  For example, they predict a rise of 7 degrees C in Australia by 2100, if emissions continue to rise unabated.

These higher temperature changes are not currently presented in the national climate projections, as they didn’t occur under the previous generation of models and emission scenarios.

Higher climate sensitivity means increases to heat extremes. It would mean we’ll see greater flow-on changes to other climate features, such as extreme rainfall, sea level rise, extreme heatwaves and more, reducing our ability to adapt. The two graphs below show temperature changes in the future in both high emission scenarios and a very low emissions scenario.

 

https://theconversation.com/just-how-hot-will-it-get-this-century-latest-climate-models-suggest-it-could-be-worse-than-we-thought-137281



There is also a report in the Washington Post about a heatwave in Siberia (May 2020).

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/environment/parts-of-siberia-are-hotter-than-washington-with-temperatures-nearly-40-degrees-above-average/ar-BB14tXLJ?ocid=spartandhp

The warmth in Siberia is already having repercussions on Arctic ecosystems, with unusually large Siberian wildfires already burning this year, snow cover plummeting unusually quickly and sea ice cover in areas such as the Kara Sea, which lies to the north of Central Siberia, at a record low for the date, having begun its seasonal melt more than a month earlier than is typical.

In recent years, scientists have raised growing concerns about the stability of Arctic permafrost, including stretches of permanently frozen soil located throughout Siberia. When the permafrost thaws, carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases that had been locked away for centuries is freed up, constituting an accelerant to global warming.

a close up of food: January to April temperature departures from average, showing the most significant temperature anomalies across Russia, including Siberia. (Berkeley Earth)

The temperature departures from average in Siberia this year are some of the highest of any area on Earth. Since January, the region has been running at least 3 degrees Celsius above the long-term average, according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.



 


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UK aid’s commitment to tackle climate change in Africa

A UK aid package to tackle climate change across Africa has been announced by the International Development Secretary Rory Stewart during a two day visit to Kenya.

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart greets a community member in Loiyangalani, Kenya. Picture: Will Crowne/DFID

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart greets a community member in Loiyangalani, Kenya. Picture: Will Crowne/DFID

The support would help sub-Saharan African countries build resilience to climate change and develop low carbon economies.

Increasing temperatures and extreme weather across the continent are having a profound impact on the lives and livelihoods of communities.

During his visit, the Secretary of State saw first-hand what happens when we do not protect the planet, including damaged natural flood defences; arid, drought-stricken land; and wildlife, the environment and jobs put at risk. He highlighted how tackling climate change is a global problem, and taking on an issue which affects us all will also ultimately benefit the UK.

Over the next five years, the new £250 million UK aid package would ensure UK expertise and experience can help developing countries become more climate resilient and move away from fossil fuels onto cleaner energy sources.

Working in partnership with African governments, organisations and communities, this funding would be the Department for International Development’s (DFID’s) largest single direct climate investment ever in the continent.

The Secretary of State said during his visit to a drought-affected village in Marsabit County in northern Kenya (July 12):

We are facing a global climate emergency. Polluted air, rising sea levels and increasing temperatures are felt by everyone in the world.

We must all play our part to protect the environment, wildlife, vulnerable families and communities – and this includes investing in renewable energy.

I am today announcing DFID’s biggest ever single direct aid investment in climate and the environment across Africa. This builds on my ambition to double DFID’s efforts on this issue globally. Tackling climate change is of direct benefit to everyone living on this planet, including of course in the UK.

African nations are responsible for just 2 to 3% of global emissions, but the continent is set to be the worst affected by the devastating impacts of climate change. Kenya is getting warmer and its rainfall becoming more uncertain.

In the coastal town of Lamu, in southern Kenya, the International Development Secretary heard on Thursday (July 11) about the importance of mangrove conservation. These trees act as a vital natural flood defence protecting communities from storms.

However, they are among the world’s most threatened vegetation and nearly 40% of Lamu’s mangroves have already been destroyed.

The International Development Secretary also visited the UNESCO World Heritage site Lamu Old Town where he heard how UK aid will support sustainable development of the town. While there he announced an additional £10 million towards DFID’s Sustainable Urban Economic Development programme to support urban economic growth in Kenya, which is resilient to climate-related shocks and disasters.

On Friday (July 12), the International Development Secretary met with communities in northern Kenya whose lives have been hit by drought. He announced an extra £4 million UK aid commitment to help prevent malnutrition and the threat of starvation for those living off arid lands in Kenya.

The effects of a changing climate and damage to the environment can already be seen in the village of Loiyangalani, near Marsabit County. In 2017 villagers experienced the worst drought for over five years, with people and livestock threatened by death, disease and starvation.

Wildlife and biodiversity is also under threat. Globally, one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. During a visit to Ol Pejeta conservancy in central Kenya, he saw the last two northern white rhino on the planet; a sub-species on the edge of extinction. The combination of cattle herders searching for food for their livestock and human conflict is having an impact on the habitats of rhinos – making them more vulnerable to extinction.

UK aid is helping to preserve the environment where wildlife like rhinos live. It does this in part, by helping cattle herders in Kenya fatten up their cows to earn more from their livestock while helping to manage the land where they graze, so they are not competing so intensely for grassland with such rhinos and other endangered species.

The UK is also working with African nations to deliver an ambitious move to efficient, low carbon technologies. An estimated 600 million Africans currently do not have access to electricity, but UK aid – through its development finance arm CDC and UK private sector investment is helping to support Kenya’s renewable energy sector, by funding the development of the largest onshore wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa at Lake Turkana.

The £250 million climate programme will work across Sub-Saharan Africa, in partnership with African governments and institutions, to increase resilience and support the transition of countries to low carbon economies. The funding will also help build technical expertise across a range of sectors to support the continent to deal with the devasting impacts of climate change and help it move to clean energy sources.



24th July 2019:

International Development Secretary, Rory Stewart, resigned his post in the cabinet on learning that Boris Johnson would become the new Prime Minister.

Since posting the notes above from the Government’s website (gov.uk), an article has appeared in The Guardian warning that much of UK foreign aid is spent on fossil fuel projects, though the study covers the period from 2010.  The figure quoted is £680 million of the foreign aid budget being spent on fossil fuel projects.

Britain allocated more overseas development cash to oil and gas in the two years after signing the 2015 Paris agreement than it had in the previous five, according to the study commissioned by the Catholic development agency Cafod and carried out by the Commons international development committee. Although the UK also increased support for renewables, Cafod said the continued support for carbon-intensive energy in middle-income countries was diverting resources that should be used to help poor communities gain access to electricity from wind and solar power.



 


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“Favourite” crops provide little nutrition for pollinators

A report reviewed by Phoebe Weston in The Independent” suggests that western appetites for foods, such as avocados, coffee and citrus fruits, are threatening global food security.

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/monocultures-coffee-avocados-threaten-global-food-production-a8999561.html?SPnews17July

The cited study analysed 40 years of data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016.  They found that global diversity of crops has declined, as soyabean, canola and palm take up more land than ever – crops that only provide nutrition for pollinators during a narrow window of time, whilst they are in bloom.  As well as this, farmers are growing more crops that require pollination, such as fruits, nuts and oil seeds, because there is an increasing demand for them and they have a higher market value.

The report suggests that countries that diversity their crops are going to benefit more than those which expand with only a limited range of crops. Countries listed as most unstable in this respect are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, where expansion of soybean farms has driven deforestation and the loss of meadows. Soy production has risen by about 30% per decade globally.  These crops are an unstable source of food for insects, which are in decline globally.

fig22

Deforestation

A similar effect is occurring in Malaysia and Indonesia due to the clearance of forests to grow palm and market palm oil across the world.  These mono-culture crops are creating unstable agricultural environments, as well as the loss of many forest-dwelling creatures and pollinating insects, such as bees.

Europe has a different problem in that farmland is getting smaller, to be replaced by urban development, and to favour the growing of pollinating-dependent crops. This is happening in the UK, Denmark, Germany, France, Austria and Finland.

bee

Although it is mainly poorer regions which are most at risk, the consequencies of crop failure would be felt world-wide.



In recognition of the problems mentioned above, a seven-mile long bee corridor is being developed in London.  Wildflower meadows will be put in place in 22 of Brent Council’s parks in north London. The seeds will be sown across parks in the Brent Council area including Barham Park, Gladstone Park and Tiverton.  This initiative has been praised by Jeremy Corbyn (report from BBC).



 


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Scotland is producing more energy than it needs from wind power

Seeing countless renewable energy records broken and milestones passed has been a constant source of encouraging news for our planet. Now, we have yet another impressive stat to celebrate: in the first half of 2019, Scotland generated enough energy from wind power to supply its homes twice over.

Source: Science Alert:

https://www.sciencealert.com/scotland-s-wind-turbines-are-now-generating-double-what-its-residents-need

Specifically, turbines generated 9.8 million megawatt-hours of electricity between January and June, enough to supply power to 4.47 million homes – not bad for a country that has around 2.6 million homes to its name.

It’s a record high for wind energy in Scotland, and it means the turbines could have provided enough electricity for every dwelling in Scotland, plus much of northern England as well, for the first six months of the year.

windturbines



 


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Conversation between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Greta Thunberg

July 9th 2019

Last weekend The Guardian published a long-distance conversation between AOC and GT.  It can be found here:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/29/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-met-greta-thunberg-hope-contagious-climate?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMTkwNzA1&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GreenLight&CMP=greenlight_email

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (29) is the youngest ever US congresswoman and Greta Thunberg is a 16 year-old Swedish schoolgirl.  Both of them overtly campaign against climate change and, in the conversation, discuss the issues and difficulties they have experienced whilst doing so.

In February, Ocasio-Cortez submitted the Green New Deal to the US House of Representatives, calling for, among other things, the achievement of “net-zero” greenhouse gases within a decade and “a full transition off fossil fuels”, as well as retrofitting all buildings in the US to meet new energy efficient standards. Thunberg has been campaigning both in Sweden and internationally for people to recognise the urgency of doing something about global warming and climate change.

In the course of their conversation, Ocasio-Cortez and Thunberg discuss what it is like to be dismissed for their age, how depressed we should be about the future, and what tactics, as an activist, really work. Ocasio-Cortez speaks with her customary snap and brilliance that, held up against the general waffle of political discourse, seems startlingly direct. Thunberg, meanwhile, is phenomenally articulate, well-informed and self-assured, holding her own in conversation with an elected official nearly twice her age and speaking in deliberate, thoughtful English. They are, in some ways, as different as two campaigners can get – the politician working the system with Washington polish, the schoolgirl working from her bedroom to reach the rest of the world. There is something very moving about the conversation between these young women, a sense of generational rise that, as we know from every precedent from the Renaissance onwards, has the power to ignite movements and change history.

Do click on the link above and read the full conversation.  It will inspire you to keep going in your own activism.

AOCGretaThunberg2

                      Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez                           Greta Thunberg