threegenerationsleft

human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Australian PM waters down Pacific Islands declaration on climate change

The 50th meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum met in Tuvalu on 13th – 16th August 2019.  During the meetings a declaration was produced on the climate change crisis. Australian PM, Scott Morrison, and his parliament had been working to dilute the language in the declaration; they succeeded in removing the word “crisis”, as well as removing all but one reference to coal.  Tuvalu’s Prime Minister, Enele Sopoaga, said that it looked as if Pacific leaders would not be successful in getting the language of “climate change crisis” into the declaration, with the words “climate change reality” being substituted.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, middle, watered down a climate crisis resolution this week at the Pacific Islands Forum.

Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, (centre) at the Pacific Islands Forum

Pacific leaders have been strident in their calls for urgent action on the climate crisis at the forum in Tuvalu, one of the countries most at risk due to climate change. It is affected by rising temperatures as well as rising sea levels, erosion, tide inundations and salinity in the water table that makes growing food very difficult. Many on the islands believe their country will be submerged within their lifetimes, forcing them to leave.

On Monday, the Fijian prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, called for Australia “to do everything possible to achieve a rapid transition from coal to energy sources that do not contribute to climate change”, saying coal posed an “existential threat” to Pacific islands.

“Watered-down climate language has real consequences,” said Bainimarama, “like water-logged homes, schools, communities, and ancestral burial grounds.”

After a joint press conference, Enele Sopoaga said he had told the Australian prime minister during the retreat: “You are concerned about saving your economies, your situation in Australia, I’m concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu and likewise other leaders of small island countries.”

Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama was similarly critical of the declaration’s stymied content.

It was reported that the Prime Minister of Tonga had cried at the retreat while talking about two young women who had presented to leaders on Monday about the impacts of the climate crisis in Tonga.

Further information about the plight of many Pacific Island groups can be found in another blog on this site entitled: “The effects of rising sea levels on island nations”.



Tuvalu’s plight:

2Tuvalu

Climate change on Tuvalu

From: http://klima-tuvalu.no/tuvalu-and-climate-change/the-consequences-of-climate-change-on-tuvalu/

The nine islands of Tuvalu are located in the middle of the Pacific. Funafuti, the main island and capital, is at 1000 km North of Fiji. Tuvalu became, notably thanks to the climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, the international symbol of the consequences of climate change. Sea-level rise, one of the most known consequences, is a major threat for Tuvalu, considering that this country’s highest point is 4,5 meters over sea-level (whereas most of the land is way below that point). The consequences of climate change will have and already have considerable impacts on these islands.

In the National Adaptation Programme of Actions (NAPA), the government of Tuvalu has identified seven main and immediate threats for the livelihoods of Tuvaluans. These seven adverse effects are presented here:

Coastal: Following the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea-level has already risen by 20 centimetres between 1870 and nowadays. Considering the low-lying position of Tuvalu, this trend is going to dangerously affect the islands. The objective of the government is to increase the resilience of coastal areas and settlement to climate change.

Agricultural: Due to sea-level rise, the ground of Tuvalu is prone to increasing salinization, threatening the habitats of some plants, such as pulaka and coconut trees. Considering that Pulaka traditionally is the staple food in Tuvalu, the adaptation strategy is to introduce salt-tolerant pulaka.

Water: The islands of Tuvalu have progressively lost their fresh groundwater resources, not only due to sea-level rise, but also because of human pollution. In consequence, Tuvaluans only rely on rainwater storage to meet their needs. However, the seasons on Tuvalu are getting irregular and difficult to forecast, leading to droughts and water shortage. In order to ameliorate this situation, the adaptation plan recommends improved and increased water collection and water conservation techniques.

Health: Vectors breeding grounds will have an increasing availability in the next years and decades because of higher tides, inundations and tropical cyclones. The increased availability will exacerbate the exposure of the Tuvaluans to water borne diseases and will increase the epidemic potential of the islands.

Fisheries: Climate change, heating the ocean water, impacts the corals and consequently the marine fauna. The biodiversity of the ocean, and also, in the case of Tuvalu, of the atolls will decrease. In order to prevent this irreparable lost of species due to heat, fragile ecosystems have to be protected.

Fisheries: The biodiversity of the atoll and particularly in the shallower water in the lagoon, will not be the only affected by the impacts of the rising surface water temperature. The rising temperatures will also considerably reduce the shellfish and available fish resources. Considering that the Tuvaluans, on average, eat 500 grams of fish per capita every day, a reduction of the resource will have a disastrous impact of the livelihoods and, thus, also on development.

Disaster: Tuvalu has been increasingly exposed to tropical storms and cyclones since 1990.  Between 1970 and 1990, only three tropical storms, hurricanes or cyclones struck Tuvalu. However, between 1990 and 2005, the islands experienced thirteen similar meteorological events. In order to ease the impacts of the population, the country will have to implement disaster alerts and response systems.

These different threats that Tuvalu is or will be experiencing in the next years or decades are similar to all Small Island Developing States.



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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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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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Climate Change and Debt

September 30th 2018

This weekend, I attended a conference organised by the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC): “Breaking the Chains: from 1998 to the present day”.  JDC was set up in the 1990s to pressure Governments to act to cancel the unpayable debts that many developing countries held.  The situation was likened to the Biblical principle of “Jubilee” or restitution, in which debts would be cancelled every 50 years, to give an opportunity for everybody to start again at square one; not to be over-burdened with debt hanging over them.  A man called Martin Dent, a university professor raised the challenge about whether we could set the millennium as a date when the debts of developing countries could be cancelled. In 1998, in response to his, and others, Jubilee2000 campaign, 70,000 people came to Birmingham, where the G8 summit was being held, and they formed a human chain around the city to protest that so many poor countries were being held to ransom by the banks. As a result of this pressure and many thousands of signatures to petitions and postcards that were sent, $130 billion of debts was cancelled.

Birmingham-1

The human chain around Birmingham in 1998

For the full story of this, see: 

https://jubileedebt.org.uk/blog/we-still-need-a-debt-jubilee-20-years-on-from-the-birmingham-human-chain

However, things did not go back to square one, as hoped. Due to the 2008 recession and the low-interest rates that were introduced in developed countries, to help them recover from the recession, banks looked again to the poorer countries to make money; they offered new loans to them with higher interest rates. Now, 31 of these countries are in debt again, unable to pay the high interest rates the banks have imposed, with another 82 countries on the brink of going into debt.  Some developing countries, such as Jamaica and Pakistan, never had their loans cancelled anyway, so are in double the difficulty.

In 1998, JDC had proposed the introduction of better controls over banks, to prevent them from offering loans to people who were unlikely to be able to repay them. Unfortunately, these controls were not introduced,  and so a similar situation has arisen again 20 years later.

Some relevant United Nations history:

At the 2009 UN Summit (COP 15), held in Copenhagen, it was recognised that some of the poorer countries were more vulnerable to climate change, as they did not have the resources to carry out preventative measures and some, such as island nations, were more prone to the disastrous effects of more devastating hurricanes, typhoons, as well as sea level rise.  So, it was agreed at the UN to set up a fund to help those countries which are vulnerable to climate change. It was called the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in 2010 and the world’s richest countries were asked to make $100 billion available to the fund.  It was acknowledged that, as the richer countries were the ones who had caused climate change (through industrialisation and the use of fossil fuels), they had an obligation to help those countries who were suffering most from the effects of it, yet who had done nothing to bring it about.  Further details of this fund can be found at:

https://unfccc.int/process/bodies/funds-and-financial-entities/green-climate-fund

Yet by 2018, this fund has been largely ineffectual.  There have been complaints that there have been too many hoops to jump through to access the money, that the grants were too small, with loans (yet again) being preferred to grants. There is also further criticism of the embattled GCF, which has struggled with management dramas, including the resignation of its executive director and the collapse of a crucial board meeting over the summer. Rich and poor countries on the board are divided over framing new processes to raise funds, and donors have expressed private frustration at the slowness of its processes.  Now it would seem that recent applications to the GCF include applications for megadams and, from Bahrain (an oil-rich country) to clean up waste water from its oil and gas industry. Are these within the guidelines originally set up for the GCF?

In another blog, I have described the Climate Vulnerable Forum of 48 countries, which has been vocal in stating that the GCF is not doing what was promised.  Some of these countries also threatened to pull out of the 2015 Paris Agreement unless there were more assurances on finance, technology and compensation (see page 184 in my book).

How is debt linked to climate change?

At the JDC conference last weekend, there was a workshop on Climate Debt led by Clare Waldon (JDC) and Leon Sealey-Huggins from Warwick University, the latter having carried out studies on Climate Change in the Caribbean.

https://novaramedia.com/2017/09/11/3-ways-inequality-is-at-the-heart-of-hurricane-irmas-destruction/

Also, in another blog on this site, “Why climate change puts the poorest most at risk”, I cite an article by Martin Wolf in The Financial Times. in which he provides data to show that the economic impact of weather extremes is felt most strongly in tropical countries, nearly all of which are low-income countries.

In his workshop last weekend, Leon Sealey-Huggins gave evidence that the GCF is not working and is not being used to help countries adapt to climate change. As well as this, with last year (2017) seeing several powerful hurricanes in succession in the Caribbean, some countries fell into the situation of not receiving help from the GCF to repair damage but were expected to continue to pay off the debts they already held.

In contrast, €16 billion were given to The Netherlands by the EU to help them to build flood defences. And some Caribbean islands are Dutch protectorates but they received nothing.

stmaartenhurricaneirmanewscred

Damage done in St. Maarten by Hurricane Irma in 2017

This situation is unjust and requires urgent action.  The world must see how the banks are exploiting these islands who are the victims of climate change not the perpetrators.

Yet, it would appear that the IMF is resisting a moratorium on debt repayments from Caribbean islands.  Instead they are asking for them to take out climate-risk insurance.  In other words, they are being asked to insure their debts, so that the banks still get their money if there is a disaster.

Sealey-Huggins introduced the idea of “debt swaps”, in which debt repayments could be used to finance local climate change projects.

Others are calling Western countries to make reparations for slavery, as it is felt that most of the developed countries’ wealth is rooted in the slave trade.

As regards reparation, the Jubilee Debt Campaign is demanding debt relief for hurricane-hit islands.  And new initiatives are being developed to raise the profile of what has been happening.



19.10.18

Push for all Lenders to Take Responsibility

Tim Jones, of the Jubilee Debt Campaign wrote, in response to a letter in the Financial Times:

Zeng Rong ( Letters, October 17) may have got her decimal points in the wrong place when saying that China accounts for 1.8 per cent of Africa’s foreign debts, and 1.5 per cent of Ghana’s. Our recent analysis suggests that China is responsible for 20 per cent of African governments’ foreign debt, and 9 per cent of Ghana’s. 
Ms Zeng is, of course, correct to point out that there are lots of lenders to African governments, and the private sector lends at higher interest rates. Anyone concerned about preventing debt crises needs to push for responsibility from all lenders, whether governments, multilateral institutions or the private sector. 
 A key first step by lenders is a commitment to publicly disclose details on loans to governments in one place, alongside regulations to ensure all lenders comply. People across the world have the right to know about the debt being taken out in their name. 
 Tim Jones Economist, Jubilee Debt Campaign”  

 


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Church Ecumenical Conference: “A Future for All” – keynote speech by Paul Parker

This conference, organised by Birmingham Anglican Climate Action & Central England Quakers Low Carbon Commitment Forum, was held in July 2018 and was extremely well attended, emphasising perhaps the concern that many Christians have about the effects of climate change in our world today.  It was an opportunity to hear about what other people and organisations are doing to try to counteract the effects of climate change, both on an individual basis and as an organisation or faith community.  There were two keynote speeches, one of which, by Paul Parker, Quakers in Britain Recording Clerk, is reproduced below.

“Have you ever been back to visit your old school? There’s a walk I go on from home which
takes me past my old school. . It looks smaller now, despite having new classrooms and a
lick of paint, but children play outside it as they always did. Last week I met a man who’d
been to visit his father’s old school. They found it, but it was not only in ruins, but under a
metre of salt water. It was claimed by the rising Pacific Ocean; children will never play
outside it again. While we in the UK enjoy a bit of sunshine and grumble about the heat, for
many the reality of climate change bites hard.

We’ve all heard these stories. It’s easy to switch off because of despair, fear, guilt or
annoyance at others telling us how to live our lives. And because of that, there’s been a lot
of thinking about how we talk about it, whether it’s as an opportunity to build healthier
cities; or that there is joy in living simpler, low-carbon lives; or that we’re all in it together.
These points of view are very valid, but perhaps the full truth is more complicated.
It’s also about justice. Historically, as a relatively rich and privileged nation, we’ve benefited from fossil fuels and lots of other commodities at the expense of others. But if we’re serious in our belief that every human is a child of God, then as the UK negotiates what part we play in confronting our global climate crises, it’s important that historically privileged nations, and communities within them, confront their historic responsibility to do more than others to cut carbon and resource collective action. We need to be able to look people from the global South in the eye and say not only that we did what we could, but that we did everything we could.

Our awareness about the scale of the crisis of climate change is fairly recent. But there are
deep truths that we’ve always known.

For example, generations before us may not have been aware of the greenhouse effect. But
it’s always been evident that extracting fossil fuels creates, and indeed feeds on, injustice.
We’re all complicit in this problem of extraction and ‘extractive economies’. But we need to
face up to the fact that extraction is damaging, and it tends to impact not only ecosystems,
but poorer and less powerful social groups, often determined by class and race, around the
world. What do we do about this community living where we want to mine coal? How do
we get away with paying people poorly to extract it? How do we silence people objecting to
having their water sources contaminated by drilling? Often, extraction has relied upon
people who are in the way of so called progress having little power. Naomi Klein has said
that ‘it was the relative ranking of humans that allowed the digging up of all that carbon in
the first place’.

I was talking last week to a sister from Cameroon, caught up in a civil war I hadn’t even
heard about, and who was trying to run a hospital. She said, ‘of course, it’s all about the oil.
And the money doesn’t even stay in the country when they’ve finished.’

I say all this not so that we spiral in to despair, anger or even guilt. But so that we see
purpose in the UK taking radical action now. Perhaps we as people of faith are able to
confront these truths whilst having faith that we can achieve change.

And after all, the truth is, that both collective action for social change, and the low-carbon
society that can result from it, can be joyful, and good for us.

Pope Francis, in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Sì – a radical call for transformation – the
overturning of the economic system as we know it, but also personal transformation – what Francis calls ‘ecological conversion’, and perhaps we Quakers would call ‘ecological
convincement’. I was at a conference at the Vatican to mark the 3rd anniversary of Laudato
Sì last week. 

Quakers sometimes get hung up on the question – what should we do first? Should we
change the system or change ourselves? We are so complicit in this problem. Do we need
to give up our cars before we demand political action on climate change. Or should it be the
other way round?

Well, let’s do both. And let’s embrace the fact that social change is messy, imperfect and full
of contradictions.

To speak out for economic and social change, we require the integrity of making changes to
our lives. But we also live in a system, largely fuelled by fossil fuels, which is more-or-less
impossible to simply opt out of. If we demanded that political activists rid themselves of any carbon footprint, the climate change movement would be in a very bad way. If we don’t
change our own lives at all, how can we show politicians what’s possible, and give them a
sense of what changes people at the grassroots are willing to make in their lives?

As Quakers, we do know that the scale and nature of the changes we require, demands bold
action from government. And that for governments to take action for the planet, civil
society must demand it. When I met the minister responsible for climate change last year,
in the aptly titled Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, we talked a lot
about where the leadership for change should come from. Should it come from the
grassroots? Or should it come from government? There is certainly a role for civil society in showing a lead here, including faith communities which are experienced in helping
individuals to think about how they can live their lives. But there is also a clear role for
government in raising ambition, regulating and legislating for change.

Currently, the UK government subsidies the fossil fuel industry by approximately (fossil fuels subsidies are notoriously non-transparent and hard to calculate) £1.3 bn per year. We don’t need to give up our cars and switch our fridges off before we can say that this money should be redirected to the low-carbon economy.

The UK continues to back highly carbon intensive projects like airport expansion and
fracking. We needn’t be green gods and goddesses to recognise that the time has passed
when governments, seemingly completely disregard the climate impacts of these projects.

We’re hearing more ambition from government of late – but it’s not going to deliver
anything without a surge of grassroots activism. So here we are today, with work to do.

Due to immense grassroots pressure – we’re now in a better place than we have ever been in to hold government to account on climate change. In 2008 the UK government
committed to law the target of cutting emissions in line with limiting global warming to 2
degrees above pre-industrial levels. This included committing to national carbon budgets – so we could see how well the UK is doing (although the government has not always
published these on time).

Fast forward to 2015, and the UK upped its game again. It signed up to the Paris Agreement, which went further than the 2 degree target- it committed nations to limit warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees and to ‘further pursue efforts towards 1.5 degrees. The 1.5 degree target is what some of world’s nations and communities most vulnerable to climate chaos are calling for, so for it to be at least partially committed-to is progress.

Then in April this year, the government announced that it is intending to update our climate laws to fully commit to this 1.5 degree target. The announcement was a quiet one, but it was really quite significant. We certainly weren’t expecting it. Yet as we know, its action, and the details that are important – and these paint a bit of a different picture.

Last year the government published its Clean Growth Strategy. It claimed to outline how the UK will achieve our international climate commitments.

It included some positive commitments. Significant investment in energy efficiency – the big
no-brainer. Ambition for low-emissions vehicles. Some more support for renewables.
BUT it admitted that these commitments as they stood would not achieve the cuts required
by a 2 degree target. Let alone a 1.5 degree target. Overall, despite all the promises nations
have made through the UN climate process, we are still heading for well over 2C. At the
moment, it’s going to be bye-bye Tuvalu, bye-bye Bangladesh, and even bye-bye large parts
of East Anglia.

At the same time as announcing its taking climate change seriously, it increased subsidies for north sea oil and gas, announced a cap on renewables subsidies, committed to a third
runway at Heathrow, and put in place new planning laws to make it easier for companies to start fracking.

All this shows that whilst we can support the ambition- and we must- we can’t leave it
there. It’s down to normal people to demand more serious commitment, to demand
detailed climate policy, and bold action.

We’re working with other Churches to show government that we as people of faith care
about the outcome, and we care about the detail. It’s not enough to make high level commitments. We see our job to hold them to account. 

This is all the more important with the UK’s departure from the EU.

The government are being very woolly on the detail of how EU directives will be replaced
with robust UK policy and investments. When I spoke to one of the Brexit ministers last
year, and asked her how the government intended to allow itself to be held to account once
the EU institutions which have often enforced change are no longer able to do it; the reply
was that she expected this role to be taken by civil society. So that means we need to be
vigilant, to scrutinise the government response, and to equip ourselves with the scientific
knowledge truly to hold them to account.

It’s easy to feel powerless. To sit back in despair and pray for deliverance. But for Quakers,
prayer means action. And whilst we may feel powerless, through the eyes of someone from
the global South we look powerful beyond measure. We have the voice, the money, the
freedom of speech, the democratic structures and the access to government to make
ourselves heard. And we must do so.

Here are some examples of what Quakers have been doing:

Firstly, on fracking. Given that to achieve 1.5C we have to leave almost all remaining fossil
fuels in the ground, so it makes no sense to be looking for new ways to extract them, at the
three centres of fracking resistance – Preston New Road in Lancashire, Kirby Misperton in
North Yorkshire and Broadford Bridge –Quakers are getting really involved in local action.
Some are locking on at the gates; some are going to meet the council; some are giving
meeting space to local anti-fracking groups; some are going to make food for protesters. It’s really inspiring to see so many people thinking about how they can do something, in
whatever way, to support a struggle. And everyone can be part of such a movement, at
whatever level, and whatever gifts you bring.

Divestment from fossil fuels. Quakers nationally have divested, and many local groups are
doing so (if they even had money in fossil fuels in the first place). The only way fossil fuels
will be left in the ground is if the companies which invest in them become worthless. Much
as engagement with fossil fuel companies may be important, I think it’s naïve to believe that they will withdraw from extraction altogether, which is what they have to do for 1.5C. And how could we possibly continue to profit morally from companies which are responsible for the degradation of our environment?

There are global opportunities for engagement coming up: the global climate conference in
San Francisco this September; the International Monetary Fund & World Bank meetings in
Bali in October; and of course the COP24 talks to be held in Katowice, Poland, this
December, which is when the common rulebook for implementing the Paris agreement will
be agreed. It’s absolutely crucial that our government goes into these meetings prepared to
raise aspiration and to show the type of lead a country as historically privileged as ours
needs to give. So we need to embolden them to do so.

One of the speakers at the Laudato Sì conference summed up the problem in 3 A’s –
Avarice, Arrogance & Apathy – to which Aggression was added. We have to remember that war has significant effects on the environment, and that between them war and climate change account for almost all of the current global migration crisis, with more displaced people than at any time in history. Avarice, Arrogance, Apathy and Aggression are all things that we can do something about, as people of faith. They can all be challenged, in our own behaviour and others’.

There’s a story Quakers like to tell about one of the early Quakers, William Penn, who went
on to found Pennsylvania. He was a statesman and diplomat, and habitually wore a sword.
When he wore it to Quaker meeting, not long after Quakers had renounced war, another
Quaker George Fox, told him ‘wear it as long as thou canst’. The next time they saw each
other, he had stopped wearing it, having worn it as long as he could.

Friends, our lifestyle and our collective inaction is an act of violence to our planet, its
peoples, and its delicate ecosystem on which all life and communities depend. Continue
with it as long as thou canst!”

Paul Parker, 2018.  This speech can be downloaded from the Quaker website at:

http://centralenglandquakers.org.uk/2018/07/19/future-for-all/


The other keynote speech at the conference, by Bishop David Atkinson, explained how in the burning of fossil fuels we have lost the biblical ‘triangle of relationship’ between God, the earth and humanity.  His speech can be downloaded from the same web page, where other activities at the conference are also described.  The conference included workshops on the Eco Church movement, a project of A Rocha UK – a charity committed to mobilising Christians to care for nature.  (See: https://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/how-eco-church-works/); fossil-fuel divestment; interfaith experiences etc.

future-for-all (2)

Keynote Speakers at the conference: Bishop David Atkinson and Paul Parker


1 Comment

News from the Marshall islands: possible leak of American nuclear waste from a concrete dome, caused by sea level rise

This story by Debra Killalea, has been published in the New Zealand Herald on 27th November 2017.  See:

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=11948569

It relates to the legacy of nuclear tests carried out by the United States in the 1940s and 1950s.  Bikini Atoll, where 23 atomic bomb tests were carried out, is part of the Marshall Islands group. And another 40 tests were carried out at other islands in this group.  Mark Willacy, foreign correspondent, during a visit there, discovered that a giant concrete dome was built on Runit Atoll, in which tonnes of nuclear waste, including 400 lumps of plutonium, were disposed of.

Now rising sea levels and climate change threaten to unleash highly radioactive plutonium into the Pacific Ocean in a nightmare scenario for those who live in the Marshall Islands, where dozens of nuclear blasts took place, as well as further afield in the Pacific Ocean.  According to Willacy, rising sea levels have meant that water has begun to penetrate the dome, which contains the toxic waste, with radioactive material leaking out.

A 2013 report commissioned by the US Department of Energy confirmed that the dome was leaking. Whilst the US paid for the clean-up, Willacy said initial plans to line the bottom of the dome with concrete didn’t go ahead and the soil was permeable, which means that seawater gets inside.  He said,

“The dome was only meant to be a temporary solution until the US came up with a permanent plan. Instead it was a shoddy cost cutting exercise.”

He said cracks are visible in the dome’s surface but said, even if the structure failed, the US government didn’t necessarily believe it would lead to a change in the contamination levels in the waters surrounding it.  The concrete dome can be seen right beside a crater, presumably from a nuclear detonation, – and is best seen from aerial photographs.  It can also be seen from Google Earth images.

Image result for bikini atoll crater

Image from: https://stationsimon.wordpress.com/tag/nuclear-bomb/

More than 50,000 people live in the Marshall Islands and climate change is happening for these people now.  Their views are very different to those of the complacent US authorities, who do not have to live there. Marshallese community leader Alson Kelen told Willacy the dome was the connection between the nuclear age and the climate change age.

“We’re not talking just the Marshall Islands, we’re talking the whole Pacific Ocean” he said.

John Hallam, a nuclear disarmament campaigner, has said,

“When the dome was constructed, the US DoD (Department of Defense) almost contemptuously reassured the RMI (Republic of Marshall Islands) government that it would last for the next 200,000 years. This is of course nonsense, and it’s now breaking apart.”

He said the Marshall Islands story is part of the wider one of nuclear testing in the pacific, carried out by the US, France, and the UK.

Further information about the nuclear tests carried out in the Marshall Islands can be found at:

http://www.michaeljohngrist.com/2009/11/nuclear-craters-in-the-marshall-islands/#sthash.rPZQCef6.dpbs

Related image

Map of the Marshall Islands showing Bikini Atoll

In a further report about the situation in the Marshall Islands, entitled “A tiny island used as a nuclear dumpsite is about to be submerged by water”, Joe McCarthy provides further information. See:

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/enewetak-atoll-marshall-islands-nuclear-climate-ch/

Some of his report is copied below:

The Enewetak Atoll is all but invisible on Google Maps. Halfway between Australia and Hawaii, the ribbon of land is home to a small indigenous population that has seen their way of life eroded by decisions far outside of their control.

For more than half a century, the atoll, which is part of the Marshall Islands, has been contaminated by nuclear explosions and waste, according to ABC Australia. The decades ahead could leave it submerged by rising sea levels.

In this way, Enewetak “is at the intersection of two of the biggest problems of the last century and this century, nuclear weapons and sea level rise,” Michael Gerrard, the chair of Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York who has studied the atoll, told Global Citizen.

Both of these problems are at risk of converging, ABC Australia reports, because the main holding container for the atoll’s nuclear waste is being compromised by rising waters.

The atoll’s problems began in the 1940s and 1950s when the US began using it for nuclear bomb tests. The people of Enewetak were evacuated and 67 nuclear bombs were dropped, devastating wildlife, spreading nuclear toxins far and wide, and creating massive craters.

One of those craters was on Runit Island. In the late 1970s, the US began to partially clean the nuclear waste from the island. Some of the radioactive chemicals had relatively short half-lives, Michael Gerrard wrote in an op-ed, and were left to naturally decay despite their risks. Another toxin, plutonium-239, has a half-life of 24,000 years and had to be dealt with.

The 100-meter wide crater on Runit Island was deemed a good place to dump as much soil contaminated with plutonium as possible. Chunks of unexploded plutonium-239 were also disposed of in the hole.

When the cleanup was finished — far below standards that would be deemed sufficient in the US, according to Gerrard — a massive concrete shell was built to cover the hole.

No reinforcements were made to the bottom and sides of the hole, meaning the waste directly interacts with the soil and a dumpsite for radioactive waste fails to meet standards for normal trash landfills, Gerrard said.

The displaced people of Enewetak Atoll were finally allowed to return in 1980, despite the widespread contamination of their home. Traditional forms of fishing, farming, and gathering had to be abandoned because the wildlife became too contaminated, ABC Australia reports.

And despite the ongoing threat posed by the non-reinforced radioactive dumpsite, no adjustments have been made to it, ABC notes. That’s because the radiation outside the dome exceeds the radiation inside of it, according to the US Department of Energy report, so the release of the waste wouldn’t make a major environmental difference.

Rising sea levels have compromised the dome in the years since its construction, a problem that has only grown worse in recent years, and a powerful typhoon could destroy it, according to the report.

The Marshall Islands are around six feet above sea level, and large parts of Enewetak are at risk of being submerged in the years ahead. Current flooding rates are already making the islands uninhabitable once again, according to ABC Australia.

“It’s important to recognize that the Marshall Islands are doubly screwed,” Gerrard said. “They were the site of nuclear explosions by the US, and one of the things that they left behind was this nuclear dome and the other thing is the country is going underwater because of greenhouse gas emissions for which the US is major contributor.”

marshall_islands_lg.__v100122461-300x198

Map of US nuclear test sites (acknowledgements to National Cancer Institute)

Between 1946 and 1958, the US tested 66 nuclear weapons near Bikini atoll. Populations living nearby in the Marshall Islands were exposed to measurable levels of radioactive fallout from these tests.

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Another report received in January 2019

https://nuclearindustries.wordpress.com/2019/01/09/nuclear-weapons-tests-in-the-enewetak-atol-a-toxic-legacy/

Nuclear weapons tests: rising sea levels add to the toxic legacy

 The Enewetak Atoll, in the Marshall Islands, is about halfway between Australia and Hawaii. After WWII, the atoll came under control of the US, and in 1948 the first nuclear test was carried out. For 10 years, as part of the Cold War, 43 nuclear bombs were detonated on Enewetak – twice as many tests as its neighbour, Bikini Atoll.

 The US sent around 4000 personnel to the area in 1977 to clean the site. During the three-year process, they mixed contaminated soil and debris with cement and buried it in one of the blast craters on the beach. The concrete dome was added and in 1980 the atoll was said to be safe for habitation. Local residents returned the same year. But the effect of rising sea levels due to climate change had not been anticipated.

In 2013, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories issued a disturbing report commissioned by the US Department of Energy which examined the ‘Cactus’ dome on Runit Island, one of 40 islands of the Enewetak Atoll, recorded the cracks and ordered repairs.

atoll cover.JPG

 

Double standards?

 It noted (p2) that “If the Cactus crater concrete containment structure on Runit Island were located in the United States proper (or subjected to U.S. regulatory authority), it would be formally classified as a Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Site and be subject to stringent site management and monitoring practices”.

 A reader sent a link to an article by Australian journalist Phoebe Loomes, who reports that rising sea levels have added to the degradation of the large, concrete-dome holding the toxic materials which are leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

Mike Willacy, an investigative journalist, travelled to the Marshall Islands for the ABC’s Foreign Correspondent program in 2017. He said that the dome was only meant to be a temporary solution until the US came up with a permanent plan – a cost-cutting exercise.

He saw the cracks in the concrete dome and was told that residents feared for their lives if the structure collapsed. They warned of the fallout that could arise from the water flowing into the Pacific Ocean.

Enewetak-Atoll (2).jpg

“Seawater is penetrating the underside of the dome, because when they threw all this material into the old bomb crater, they didn’t line it with anything. They were supposed to line it with concrete, but that never happened because of cost considerations. So, as the sea level has risen, the groundwater level has risen and therefore you have groundwater penetrating inside the dome, because a lot of this atoll is obviously sand (and) coral. It’s permeable material.”

In the Marshall Islands, the most common cause of death is diabetes, which is related to a thyroid disorder – the second is cancer. There are high levels of birth defects, cancer and thyroid problems, which locals attribute to continued fallout from the radioactive bombing of the area.  Studies have shown that there is a higher level of cancer in residents of the Marshall Islands, who were alive during the years of the US nuclear tests, especially amongst those people living in the northern islands (closer to the test sites), when compared with those living further south:

https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/how-we-study/exposure-assessment/nci-dose-estimation-predicted-cancer-risk-residents-marshall-islands

The population of the Marshall Islands is around 70,000 and local people are allowed to live and work in the US without a visa as part of the reparations for the nuclear testing that took place. Over a third have already moved to the US. Ms Loomes adds, “It is said that when you leave the Marshall Islands, you buy a one-way ticket”.

As sea levels continue to rise and the climate becomes more unstable, residents of the Marshall Islands are faced with the harsh reality that their island homes are becoming uninhabitable. Willacy writes: “The children who live there refer to themselves as ‘the last generation’ “.


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May 2019: See also
https://nuclearindustries.wordpress.com/2019/05/29/radiation-levels-due-to-nuclear-weapons-tests-in-the-marshall-islands-the-leaking-dome-or-both/