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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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How climate change affects extreme weather around the world: Carbon Brief analysis

Carbon Brief is a UK-based website designed to “improve the understanding of climate change, both in terms of the science and the policy response”.  It is funded by the European Climate Foundation and is based in London. The article cited , and included, below received a highly-commended award for investigative journalism from the Royal Statistical Society.  Originally published in 2017, it is updated annually.



Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world

Scientists have published more than 230 peer-reviewed studies looking at weather events around the world, from Hurricane Katrina to Russia’s 2010 heatwave. The result is mounting evidence that human activity is raising the risk of some types of extreme weather, especially those linked to heat.

Carbon Brief’s analysis suggests 68% of all extreme weather events studied to date were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for 43% such events, droughts make up 17% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 16%.

To track how the evidence on this fast-moving topic is stacking up, Carbon Brief has mapped – to the best of their knowledge – every extreme event attribution study from a peer-reviewed journal.

The map below shows 260 extreme weather events across the globe for which scientists have carried out attribution studies. The different symbols show the type of extreme weather; for example, a heatwave, flood or drought. The colours indicate whether the attribution study found a link to human-caused climate change (red), no link (blue) or was inconclusive (grey).

How to use our map of attribution studies.

Use the plus and minus buttons in the top-left corner, or double click anywhere, to zoom in on any part of the world. Click on a weather event to reveal more information, including a quote from the original paper to summarise the findings and a link to the online version.

The filter on the left allows users to select a specific type of weather event to look at or, for example, only those found to be influenced by climate change.

The software used to make the map currently only works with a Web Mercator projection (as used by virtually all major online map providers). It is worth noting that this – like all map projections – offers a somewhat distorted view of the world.

It is important to note that the weather events scientists have studied so far are not randomly chosen. They can be high-profile events, such as Hurricane Harvey, or simply the events that occurred nearest to scientific research centres. (More on this later.)

Guardsmen help evacuate Texans in need during Hurricane Harvey, Houston, Texas

Weather types

The 260 weather events in the map are covered by 234 individual scientific papers. Where a single study covers multiple events or different locations, these have been separated out.

Combining the evidence over the past 20 years, the literature is heavily dominated by studies of extreme heat (31%), rainfall or flooding (20%) and drought (18%). Together, these make up more than two-thirds of all published studies (68%). The full list is available in this Google sheet.

As the chart below shows, the number of events studied each year has grown rapidly over time; from eight in 2012 to 59 in 2018. Note that the studies typically follow a year or so after the event itself as the writing and peer-review process for journal papers can take many months.

The majority of studies included here have been published in the annual “Explaining extreme events” special issues of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). Each bumper volume typically contains around 20-30 peer-reviewed studies of events from the previous year. Other studies have been found through the Climate Signals database and online searches through journals.

Specific types of event can be displayed in the chart below by clicking on the category names at the top.

https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/cbhighcharts2019/attribution/attribution-studies.html

Number of attribution studies by extreme weather event type and year. Note: the total number of events dipped in 2017 because the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society special report for that year was published in early 2018 rather than late 2017.

Most of the categories of extreme weather are self-explanatory, but “storms” and “oceans” require a bit of explanation.

For ease of presentation, the “storms” category includes both tropical cyclones (i.e. hurricanes, typhoons) and extratropical storms. The “oceans” category encompasses studies looking at sea surface temperatures and storm surges, such as those generated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Hurricane Sandy (pdf, p17) along the eastern US seaboard.

Thirsty people drinking from a public fountain set up for Paris Plage, during the summer heatwave, Paris, France.

There are also some new categories of events in this update, including “coral bleaching” and “ecosystem services”, reflecting the ongoing developments in attribution science.

For example, two studies focusing on 2016 found that El Niño and human-caused climate change combined to bring drought and poor harvests to southern Africa (pdf, p91), and that enhanced warming of sea surface temperatures increased the risk (pdf, p144) of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

Such studies show that attribution studies are increasingly considering the impacts of extremes, rather than focusing purely on the weather event. One of the first of these “impact attribution” studies was published in 2016. It estimated that 506 of the 735 fatalities in Paris during the 2003 European heatwave were down to the fact that climate change had made the heat more intense than it would otherwise have been. The same was true for 64 of the 315 fatalities in London, the study said.

This shift towards impacts “is quite significant”, says Prof Peter Stott, who leads the climate monitoring and attribution team at the Met Office Hadley Centre and has been a co-editor of the BAMS reports since they began in 2012. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Impacts are hard to do because you have to establish a significant link between the meteorology and the impact in question. As editors, we’ve been trying to encourage more studies on impacts because it’s the impacts rather than the meteorology per se that tends to motivate these types of study – and if we only have the attribution on the meteorological event then we only have an indirect link to the relevant impact.”

Finally, some attribution research has also looked at the human influence on changes in general indicators of climate change, such as global average temperature or sea level rise. These have not been included in the attribution map as the focus here is on extremes.

Human influence

Turning to the results of the attribution studies that have been published so far, scientists found that human-caused climate change has altered the likelihood or severity of an extreme weather event in 78% of cases studied (68% made more severe or likely and 10% made less so).

In Carbon Brief’s first edition of this analysis in 2017, 68% of events were found to have a human impact (with 63% made more severe or likely and 6% less so).

Note that events are classified here as having an human impact if climate change is found to have influenced at least one aspect of that event. For example, a study of the 2011 East Africa drought found that climate change contributed to the failure of the “long rains” in early 2011, but that the lack of “short rains” in late 2010 was down to the climate phenomenon La Niña. This event is, thus, designated as having a human impact.

For the majority of events affected by climate change, the balance has shifted in the same direction. That is, rising temperatures made the event in question more severe or more likely to occur. These events are represented by the red in the chart below. Clicking on the red “slice” reveals that heatwaves account for 43% of such events, droughts for 17% and rainfall or flooding for 16%. Return to the original chart, and do the same with the other slices to see the proportion of different weather types in each category.

https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/cbhighcharts2019/attribution/attribution-drilldown.html

In 11% of studied weather events, scientists found climate change had made the event less likely or less severe (pale orange in the chart above).

Unsurprisingly, this category includes blizzards and extreme cold snaps. However, it also features a few studies that suggest climate change has lessened the chances of heavy rainfall, and another that found rising temperatures have made agricultural drought in California less likely.

With thanks and acknowledgements to Carbon Brief.

The complete article can be found at

Mapped: How climate change affects extreme weather around the world

Later sections of the article contains sections on:

heatwaves

drought

heavy rain and flooding

 

 



 


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Carbon Brief provides a map of the world’s coal powered plants

In an outstanding analysis of current use of coal as a source of power, Carbon Brief, has introduced a map showing where the coal powered plants are.

https://www.carbonbrief.org/mapped-worlds-coal-power-plants

They are remarkably absent from most of the continent of Africa, apart from South Africa, but are still very present in other parts of the world, most being present in the northern hemisphere.

According to Carbon Brief , since 2000, the world has doubled its coal-fired power capacity to 2,000 gigawatts (GW) after explosive growth in China and India. Alarmingly, another 200GW is being built and 450GW is planned.


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Outcomes of the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, November 2017, including plans for the Talanoa dialogue

An excellent summary of the conference can be found on the Carbon Brief website:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop23-key-outcomes-agreed-un-climate-talks-bonn

A rather wordy official document from the UNFCCC can be found at:

http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2017/cop23/eng/l13.pdf

It includes as Annex II, an informal note on the plans to implement the Talanoa Dialogue, which is copied below:

Talanoa dialogue
Approach

The Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 conducted extensive consultations on the Talanoa
dialogue throughout 2017, which continued during the twenty-third session of the COP. This informal note has been prepared by the Presidencies of COP 22 and COP 23 on this basis.
Mandate
The COP by its decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20, decided to “convene a facilitative dialogue
among Parties in 2018 to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Agreement and to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 8, of the Agreement”.
Features of the Talanoa dialogue
Based on input received by Parties, the main features of the dialogue are as follows:
− The dialogue should be constructive, facilitative and solutions oriented;
− The dialogue should not lead to discussions of a confrontational nature in which
individual Parties or groups of Parties are singled out;
− The dialogue will be conducted in the spirit of the Pacific tradition of Talanoa:
o Talanoa is a traditional approach used in Fiji and the Pacific to engage in
an inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue;
o The purpose of Talanoa is to share stories, build empathy and trust;
o During the process, participants advance their knowledge through common
understanding;
o It creates a platform of dialogue, which results in better decision-making
for the collective good;
o By focusing on the benefits of collective action, this process will inform
decision-making and move the global climate agenda forward;
− The dialogue should be conducted in a manner that promotes cooperation;

* Reproduced as received from the Presidents of the twenty-second and twenty-third sessions of the Conference of
the Parties.
FCCC/CP/2017/L.13
8
− The dialogue will be structured around three general topics:
o Where are we?
o Where do we want to go?
o How do we get there?
− The dialogue will be conducted in a manner that promotes enhanced ambition. The
dialogue will consider, as one of its elements, the efforts of Parties on action and
support, as appropriate, in the pre-2020 period;
− The dialogue will fulfil its mandate, in a comprehensive and non-restrictive
manner;
− The dialogue will consist of a preparatory and a political phase;
− The Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 will jointly lead both phases of the
dialogue and co-chair the political phase at COP 24;
− A dedicated space will be provided in the dialogue, both during the preparatory and
the political phase to facilitate the understanding of the implications of the Special
Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Global Warming of
1.5°C;
− As regards inputs to the dialogue:
o The Special Report by the IPCC on global warming of 1.5°C requested by
the COP will inform the dialogue;
o Parties, stakeholders and expert institutions are encouraged to prepare
analytical and policy relevant inputs to inform the dialogue and submit
these and other proposed inputs, including those from intergovernmental
organisations and UNFCCC bodies, by 2 April 2018 for discussions in
conjunction with the May session, and by 29 October 2018 for discussions
in conjunction with COP 24;
o The Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 will also provide inputs to inform
the dialogue;
o An online platform will facilitate access to all inputs to the dialogue, which
will be overseen by the Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24;
o The secretariat will be requested to prepare relevant inputs and to develop
and manage the online platform under the guidance of the Presidencies of
COP 23 and COP 24;
− The preparatory phase will seek to build a strong evidence-based foundation for the
political phase:
o The preparatory phase will start after the dialogue is launched at COP 23,
in January 2018, and will end at COP 24;
o Parties and non-Party stakeholders are invited to cooperate in convening
local, national, regional or global events in support of the dialogue and to
prepare and make available relevant inputs;
o The May discussions will be used to explore the three central topics
informed by inputs by various actors and institutions, including from the
Technical Examination Process and Global Climate Action, with the
support of the high-level champions;
o Summaries from all discussions will be prepared under the authority of the
Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24;

o The information and insights gained during the preparatory phase will be
synthesised by the Presidencies of COP 23 and COP 24 to provide a
foundation for the political phase;

Figure 1 – Preparatory phase (the figure can be found in the original document)
− The political phase will bring high-level representatives of Parties together to take
stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term
goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Agreement and to inform the
preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph
8, of the Agreement:
o The political phase will take place at COP 24 with the participation of
Ministers;
o This phase will build on the preparatory phase and focus on the objectives
of the dialogue;
o Political discussions will include roundtables to ensure focussed and
interactive discussions among Ministers;
o At the closing meeting of the dialogue, the Presidencies of COP 23 and
COP 24 will provide a summary of key messages from the roundtables;

(Fig. 2 – the political phase – can be found in the original document)

− It will be important to send clear forward looking signals to ensure that the outcome
of the dialogue is greater confidence, courage and enhanced ambition;
− The outcome of the dialogue is expected to capture the political momentum, and
help Parties to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions;
− The outputs of the dialogue will include reports and summaries of the discussions.

The Carbon Brief website also includes a section on what needs to happen before next year’s COP24 meeting in Poland:

https://www.carbonbrief.org/what-needs-happen-cop24-keep-paris-agreement-track

including a video which gives comments on this from people from around the world:


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Trading Systems, Deficits and the Concept of Growth

CHAPTER 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for McDonalds in Japan

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

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

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

Large Companies and Climate Change Denial

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

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

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

Table 3: Largest 25 companies in the world (from google images and http://bespokeinvest.typepad.com/bespoke/2009/04/largest-companies-in-the-world.html)

25biggest

Carbon Majors – the companies who emit the most greenhouse gases

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

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

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

The Volkswagen deception

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

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

Trade and Competition 1

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

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

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

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

OIL

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

Image result for oil well

Fig. 35  An oil well

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

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

Image result for solar power farms in Chile

Fig. 36 Solar power farm in Chile 

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

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

Image result for oil spills and sea birds

Fig. 37  

Image result for oil spills

Fig. 38

Image result for oil spills

Fig.39

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

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

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

 Market Economies

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

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

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

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

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

fig40

Fig.40

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

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

fig41

Fig.41 – From the Office of National Statistics

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

Lucas’s report provides some astonishing data:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Economic Growth

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

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

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

Social Businesses

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

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

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

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

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

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

oecd

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The normal GDP
  • The green GDP

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

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

National Self-Sufficiency

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

fig42

Fig.42

A local farmer’s market (From clipart)

Britain’s Responsibility

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

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

Trading and Competition 2

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

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

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

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

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

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

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

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

 The Merchant Culture

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

A Downturn in Global Trading Systems?

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The industrial revolution

CHAPTER 2

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

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

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

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

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

Fig.16: Image of the Industrial revolution in Britain

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

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

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

fig17

Fig.17 Children working in a textiles factory (From: www.primaryhomeworkhelp.co.uk)

Children in the coal mines

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

From: http://historylearning.com/great-britain-1700-to-1900/indrevo/coal-mines-industrial-revolution/

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

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

The Motor Car

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

fig19

Fig.20 Takeover by the motor car

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

%

Petrol fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,184,409               47.8

Diesel fuelled vehicles new registrations             1,240,287                50.1

Alternative fuel vehicles new registrations               51,739                  2.1

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

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

fig20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fig21

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

fig22

Fig.22: Deforestation in India

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

Other changes associated with the industrial revolution

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

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

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

The Industrial Revolution (IR) Continuum

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

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

  1. Electricity

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

fig23

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

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

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

fig24

Fig.24

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

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

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

fig25

Fig.25 Global energy use by source, 1965-2014. Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2015. Chart by Carbon Brief: www.carbonbrief.org and http://www.carbonbrief.org/data-dashboard-energy-archive

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

  1. Plastics

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

fig26

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

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

  1. Weaponry

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

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

  1. Aviation

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

fig27

Fig.27: The Airbus A380

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

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

  1. Electronics, Space and the digital revolution

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

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

The Consumer Culture

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

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

Who are the worst polluters?

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

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

fig28

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