human activity and the destruction of the planet

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An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change

An obsession with GDP and economic growth is acting to worsen climate change.

A number of progressive economists have been pointing out the facts relating to this statement for the last few years.  Yet, political leaders across the world still seem to be deaf to their words and obsessed with a need to find ways to fuel economic growth through a market economy and promoting austerity, and then praise themselves for doing it, even though their austerity measures affect the poorest in society and damage the environment.  It is part of an adherence to a competitive world, in which one’s own country must come out on top.  This blinkered approach encourages the manufacturing industry, much of which uses fossil fuels, and trading across the globe, in order to balance the difference between imports and exports – what is termed ” a balanced economy”.  I deal with the issue in Chapter 7 of my book, which can be found elsewhere on this website.

In the UK, this approach was perhaps pioneered by Margaret Thatcher and her crony in the US, Ronald Reagan.  But it was later picked up with enthusiasm by Tony Blair and developed further, until it became an obsession with economists.  According to George Monbiot, they are using the wrong mathematics and this approach is both outdated and harmful to the environment. See:

George Monbiot (2015) Guardian 24th November 2015.  “Consume more, conserve more: Sorry but we just can’t do both.”

A number of progressive economists have been saying a similar thing for a number of years.  Perhaps the late Richard Douthwaite was the first to say this in his book “The Growth Illusion” (1999) but there have been others too:  Molly Scott Cato MEP (“Green Economics”), Kate Raworth (Doughnut Economics and also “Old economics is based on false ‘laws of physics’ – new economics can save us” Guardian 6th April 2017), Ian Fletcher (“Free Trade Doesn’t Work”), Paul Krugman  (“How did economists get it so wrong?” in the New York Times), Pat Conaty and the New Economics Foundation among others (full details of each in my references section on this website).

The current Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, also wrote a booklet about this in June 2007, whilst a member of Tony Blair’s “market economy party”.  It is entitled “Another World is Possible” and shows amazing foresight about the consequences of market economy politics, which we are living with now. He was courageous to write this, when Blair had been pursuing another path.


According to Kate Raworth in her Guardian article, “Things are not going well in the world’s richest economies. Most OECD countries are facing their highest levels of income inequality in 30 years, while generating ecological footprints of a size that would require four, five or six planet Earths if every country were to follow suit. These economies have, in essence, become divisive and degenerative by default. Mainstream economic theory long promised that the solution starts with growth – but why does that theory seem so ill-equipped to deal with the social and ecological fallout of its own prescriptions?”

And yet, despite all of these highly knowledgeable progressive economists writing at length about it, the old way of dealing with the British economy still persists. The present conservative government in the UK has used it extensively over the last 10 years, as a hammer to batter the opposition with – that they are weak on the economy – a deceitful myth that a gullible public unwittingly believed, when voting at the ballot box – until last June, that is.  And the present Chancellor constantly brings statistical data to parliament, in an attempt to show that their economic austerity policies are working.  What he does not say is that they are contributing to climate change, as well as making many marginalised people much worse off.  Indeed, they seem to have abandoned any pretence to be working towards attaining the targets set by the Paris Agreement in 2015.  George Monbiot has slated their 25-year environment plan, as “A Grand Plan to do Nothing”. See:

This last year, we have seen some of the extreme consequences of climate change:

  • excessive heatwaves last summer;
  • a prolonged unusual freeze-up this winter;
  • last year having the most violent and numerous hurricanes;
  • island nations losing some of their territory due to sea level rise;
  • the last few years, global temperatures being the hottest ever on record.

Some of these issues have been described in more detail in other recent blogs on this website.

Just recently, I have read an article by Alan Cottey, a member of Scientists for Global Responsibility: “Environment change, economy change and reducing conflict at source”, just published in AI & Society, where he sets out alternatives.  Here is an extract from the Abstract:

At a time when fossil fuel burning, nationalism, ethnic and religious intolerance, and other retrograde steps are being promoted, the prospects for world peace and environmental systems stability may appear dim. Exactly because of this is it the more important to continue to examine the sources of conflict. A major obstacle to general progress is the currently dominant economic practice and theory, which is here called the economy-as-usual, or economics-as-usual, as appropriate. A special obstacle to constructive change is the language in which economic matters are usually discussed. This language is narrow, conservative, technical and often obscure. The rapid changes in the environment (physical and living) are largely kept in a separate compartment. If, however, the partition is removed, economics-as-usual, with its dependence on growth and its widening inequality, is seen to be unsustainable. Radical economic change, for better or worse, is to be expected. Such change is here called economy change. The change could be for the better if it involved an expansion of the concept of economics itself, along the lines of oikonomia, a modern revival of a classical Greek term for management or household. In such an expanded view, not everything of economic value can be measured. It is argued that economics-as-usual is the source of much strife. Some features are indicated of a less conflictual economy—more just, cooperative and peaceful. These features include a dignified life available to all people as of right, the word ‘wealth’ being reconnected with weal, well and well-being, and ‘work’ being understood as including all useful activity.”

The whole article can be found at:

I think that many of us have stood on the sidelines of this issue for long enough now.  It is time for the progressive economists I have named above, and those cited in Cottey’s article, to come together, in formulating together a new economic theory, with a clear structure, that takes care of the environment, does not increase the gap between rich and poor, and which reduces conflict and competition between nations.  They have written separately for too long.  Now, we are looking for a new structure – a really new economics, based on compassion and equality, not austerity, which will work towards reducing the damaging effects of climate change.


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Disappearing arctic polar ice cap – can this affect the Gulf Stream?

In Chapter 1 of my book, I provide evidence that the arctic ice is shrinking.  This is shown graphically in Figure 14 (page 34), which I reproduced, with acknowledgements to Andy Lee Haveland.  Because the size of the arctic ice varies throughout the year, and summer to winter, it is important to take measurements throughout the seasons of the year.

The figure below, published in my book with permission, gives an idea of what has been happening between 1979 and 2016.  arctic-death-spiral

Each colour represents a different month of the year and the difference in the size of the ice throughout the year shows how much it has shrunk during the period 1979-2016.  The stark difference between 1979 and 2016 can be seen best at the top of the graph.

Now, NASA has produced a time-lapse video showing the movement of the ice as it pulses through the seasons.  The video is posted on YouTube with this description, “Arctic sea ice has not only been shrinking in surface area in recent years, it’s becoming younger and thinner as well.”  The video can also be seen on the following website:

NASA releases time-lapse of the disappearing Arctic polar ice cap

This last winter (2017-18) has been very much colder in the UK and other parts of Europe and this has led to some people denying that global warming is happening.  The crazy thing is that, whilst Britain was in the grip of a lengthy period of freezing weather and large falls of snow, at the north pole it was warmer than usual, reaching melting point in some places, with temperatures up to 20 degrees higher than normal.  Similar temperature anomalies were also reported for some of the US and Canada.

The reality is that this phenomenon is all part of the unstable weather patterns that are being caused by climate change.

Now, in the latest issue of New Scientist (No. 3169, 17th March 2018), Colin Barras describes new research, which might suggest that changes in the North Atlantic current (the northern part of the Gulf Stream), could result in a shut-down, leading to even greater sea-level rise on Atlantic coasts and more intense droughts in Africa.

Marilena Oltmanns and her colleagues have studied the salinity of sea water and its temperature in the area just south of Greenland (Irminger Sea) between 2002 and 2014.  They found that, in summer, the sea had much warmer temperatures and lower salinity.  This would suggest that fresh water (melt from Greenland and the Arctic) is flooding into this area and affecting the currents and convection process.  This was more likely to happen after particularly mild winters.  In 2010-11, conditions were mild, resulting in an accumulation of fresh water in the sea, 40% of it still there even after the end of winter.  These findings are reported in Nature Climate Change,

Oltmanns believes that, if several warm years occur in succession, there would be a build up of fresh water, impeding the process of convection.  This might result in a shut-down of the North Atlantic current.  This might bring about the end of the North Atlantic’s relatively mild climate and the ameliorating effects of the Gulf Stream.

Other writers and researchers are proposing other impacts too, as far reaching as Africa and South America, though at this time much of it is still speculation.

Further information about the North Atlantic current can be found in Wikipedia, from which the following diagram has been taken.



Could this mean that the prolonged freezing period experienced in the UK and Europe this winter could become the norm?

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Mass deaths of some species being witnessed – is this the prelude to a mass extinction of species?

In my book, I mention research carried out by scientists, in which they predict that we could be facing a sixth mass extinction of species within three generations of our time.  Indeed, it is this report which was behind the title of my book – “Three Generations Left?”  I give further details of this research report in chapter 1 of my book, which can be found on this website.

Then, in the news today, is the discovery of thousands of dead starfish – and other sea creatures – washed up on beaches in Kent.  People are speculating that the deaths have been caused by the intensely freezing weather conditions we have been experiencing in the UK over the last week. Indeed, there was a report of the sea freezing around the Isle of Sheppey, also in Kent.  The sea in this area is probably less salty than elsewhere, because several (freshwater) rivers flow into the sea here (Medway, Swale, Thames) but it is still a significant event for the sea around the British Isles to freeze.  At the same time, further north in the Arctic Circle, the ice was melting.

A similar mass death event occurred in 2014 off Mexico and Alaska, when millions of starfish died there, though this would appear to have been caused in that case by warmer seas and an outbreak of parvovirus in the starfish.

Dead starfish on a Kent beach

In a parallel theme, an article just over a week ago, in The Observer (Science and Tech section) by David Derbyshire, mentions a mass death event in Kazakstan in 2015, when  200,000 Saiga antelopes suddenly died in the grassy plains where they were feeding. This represented 60 per cent of the global population of Saiga antelopes and, as a result, they are now critically endangered. Derbyshire questions whether this mass death event was caused by climate change.  Other articles about this suggest that the animals died of hemorrhagic septicaemia, caused by a bacterium called Pasteurella multocida, which was  isolated in tissue samples from the dead animals.  This pathogen normally lives harmlessly in the respiratory tract of these antelopes but it appears to have run amok in 2015, causing the mass deaths.

Further details can be found in:

Mass mortality events (MMEs) – single catastrophic incidents that wipe out vast numbers of a species – are on the increase and may be triggered by climate change.  Other species that are affected by MMEs include starfish, bats, sardines and coral reefs.  The scientist who studied the 2015 antelope event, Richard Kock, published an article in Science Advances, which concluded that a rise in temperature, combined with an increase in humidity, had stimulated the bacteria to pass into the blood stream, where it caused blood poisoning and death.

In 2014, during a heatwave in Australia, 45,000 fruit bats (flying foxes) died on one hot day.

Climate change is leading to more extreme weather events and it is in these circumstances that we may observe more MMEs.  It would appear that some organisms live harmlessly within a species but, in extreme weather conditions, may rapidly increase, causing death an possible extinction.





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France is to close all coal-fired power stations by 2021

French President, Emmanuel Macron, has pledged to make France a model in the fight against climate change.  This was announced at the Davos talks of the World Economic Forum.  However, France only produces one per cent of its energy from coal-fired power stations, so it is not such a big deal for them.  The full story can be found in The Independent on 24th January 2018:



Emmanuel Macron at the WEF in Davos, Switzerland

Macron’s speech was delivered in both English and French and, according to Quartz, was the longest speech there.  A fuller analysis of what he said there can be found at:

Emmanuel Macron is a different president when he speaks English and not French

I find it truly challenging that Macron should have the vision to encourage France to lead the way in addressing climate change.  In my book, Three Generations Left: Human Activity and the Destruction of the Planet, I point out that Britain should be the country leading the way, as we were the first country to industrialise – one of the factors that has led to the situation the world is in now, with global warming at alarming levels.

The global scene is an interesting one right now.  The writer of the Independent article cited above points out that President Trump was saying the opposite to Macron for the USA.  Many people across the globe are applauding Macron and others who are speaking out on the issue.  We are at a watershed time.

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The effects of heat waves on human survivability

An article in the New Scientist (No.3161) by John Pickrell, entitled “Too hot to handle”, discusses the increasing trend of heatwaves throughout the world, as a result of climate change.


Pickrell starts by discussing Australia, which had a heatwave in January 2017, with the hottest ever recorded temperatures in Sydney and Brisbane (Sydney had over 47 degrees). Large parts of the country had temperatures over 40 degrees C for weeks on end, as well as bush fires.  Many of the unique species of wildlife common to Australia had to be rescued from fires and heat, many of them suffering from heat exhaustion, burns, dehydration and stress.




Temperatures of 50 degrees C are predicted by 2040 for Australia.

Pickrell then goes on to cite papers, which give statistics about fatalities during heatwaves, one from The Lancet which covered research by 26 institutions (including the World Health Organization).

The 2003 heatwave in France killed 70,000 people – but it would appear that the level of humidity is the crucial factor, as high levels of water in the atmosphere can reduce the body’s ability to cool down through sweating.  To sweat effectively, you must maintain your blood volume, so dehydration can cause heat stress, followed by heat stroke, multiple organ failure and possible death.  The elderly and children are at greater risk of heat stroke, as well as those on medication or with heart disease.

According to The Lancet, global warming has reduced the workforce in India by 418,000.

An interesting map of the world is given in the New Scientist article to show the probability of deadly heatwaves for three global warming scenarios: 1.5 degrees C; 2 degrees C and 4 degrees C.  This can be seen by clicking on the link below:

heatwaves data

It shows that, even with an increase in global temperature of 2 degrees, many parts of the world will become uninhabitable, through rising temperatures: North West Africa, much of the Middle East, parts of Central and South America, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and much of Australia.  At four degrees the situation is dire throughout much of the tropical world.

The New Scientist article concludes with a list of advice on how to keep cool.


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EU’s clean energy plan could put forests at risk

A letter in last December 14th’s Guardian, and signed by numerous leading scientists, drew attention to the fact that the clean energy plan allows fuel from felled trees to qualify as renewable energy, when in fact this would accelerate climate change and devastate forests.

The European Union is moving to enact a directive to double Europe’s current renewable energy by 2030. This is admirable, but a critical flaw in the present version of the plan would accelerate climate change, allowing countries, power plants and factories to claim that cutting down trees and burning them for energy fully qualifies as renewable energy.

Even a small part of Europe’s energy requires a large quantity of trees and to avoid profound harm to the climate and forests worldwide the European council and parliament must fix this flaw.


European producers of wood products have for decades generated electricity and heat as beneficial by-products, using wood wastes and limited forest residues. Most of this material would decompose and release carbon dioxide in a few years anyway, so using them to displace fossil fuels can reduce the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere in a few years too.

Unfortunately, the directive moving through parliament would go beyond wastes and residues and credit countries and companies for cutting down additional trees simply to burn them for energy. To do so has fundamentally different consequences because the carbon released into the air would otherwise stay locked up in forests.

The reasoning seems to be that so long as forests re-grow, they will eventually reabsorb the carbon released. Yet even then, the net effect – as many studies have shown – will typically be to increase global warming for decades to centuries, even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.

The full letter can be found at:

There is also a petition to the EU which cn be signed by concerned people:

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Cape Town in South Africa is running out of water – whilst Paris experiences floods

An unprecedented drought in South Africa is causing an imminent shortage of water.  Officials estimate that the taps will run dry by 12 April 2018 (Day Zero).  Cape Town’s reservoirs have less than 90 days’ of water left.  Rationing has been introduced. the four million residents have been asked to restrict their water usage to 87 litres per person per day. This means car washing, topping up swimming pools and using potable water to irrigate gardens has been banned.  Hotels have drained their swimming pools and removed bath plugs.


The drought has been caused by very low rainfall over the past few years and increased water consumption by the city’s growing population.

Now, further news from the Times states that Cape Town has pleaded with the South African government to declare a national disaster as it faces the prospect of becoming the first modern city in the world to run out of water.

To put South Africa’s crisis in context, Canadians use around 329 litres of water a day. And the average Canadian uses about 65 per cent of it in their bathrooms, according to Environment Canada.

Presumably, the drought in South Africa is yet another effect of the climate change that is being experienced in different ways across the globe.

south africa water

Cape Town residents fill water bottles and containers at a local spring

Meanwhile, in France, the capital is in flood, with many being evacuated from their homes as a result of the River Seine bursting its banks.  The New York Times headlines this story with the statement, “Floods leave Paris contemplating a wetter future”.  See:

Paris flooding

A flooded park on Ile de la Cite, Paris

Clearly, a result of climate change are the unstable weather patterns throughout the world, South Africa experiencing drought, whilst much of Europe is experiencing extremes of rain and snow.