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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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New solar and lighting technology could propel a renewable energy transformation

This article was published in The Conversation on September 1, 2020 and written by Simon Stranks, a lecturer in Energy and Royal Society and University Research Fellow, University of Cambridge. He is also a co-founder of Swift Solar Inc.

https://theconversation.com/how-a-new-solar-and-lighting-technology-could-propel-a-renewable-energy-transformation-133658

The demand for cheaper, greener electricity means that the energy landscape is changing faster than at any other point in history. This is particularly true of solar-powered electricity and battery storage. The cost of both has dropped at unprecedented rates over the past decade and energy efficient technologies such as LED lighting have also expanded.

Access to cheap and ubiquitous solar power and storage will transform the way we produce and use power, allowing electrification of the transport sector. There is potential for new chemical-based economies in which we store renewable energy as fuels, and support new devices making up an “internet of things”.

But our current energy technologies won’t lead us to this future: we will soon hit efficiency and cost limits. The potential for future reductions in the cost of electricity from silicon solar, for example, is limited. The manufacture of each panel demands a fair amount of energy and factories are expensive to build. And although the cost of production can be squeezed a little further, the costs of a solar installation are now dominated by the extras – installation, wiring, the electronics and so on.

This means that current solar power systems are unlikely to meet the required fraction of our 30 TeraWatt (TW) global power requirements (they produce less than 1 TW today) fast enough to address issues such as climate change.

Likewise, our current LED lighting and display technologies are too expensive and not of good enough colour quality to realistically replace traditional lighting in a short enough time frame. This is a problem, as lighting currently accounts for 5% of the world’s carbon emissions. New technologies are needed to fill this gap, and quickly.

The article then goes on to describe a new family of materials being developed in a laboratory in Cambridge. These are called Halide Perovskites, which are semi-conductors, which conduct charges when stimulated with light.

Coloured perovskite light-emitting inks that can be cast down into thin films

There are still challenges to developing this technology commercially but the author sets out the way forward. Please see the article for a full description.

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Atmospheric CO2 levels rise despite Covid-19 lockdowns

This posting is taken from an article in The Guardian by Fiona Harvey on 4th June 2020.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/04/atmospheric-co2-levels-rise-sharply-despite-covid-19-lockdowns

Scientists find coronavirus crisis has had little impact on overall concentration trend.

Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen strongly to a new peak this year, despite the impact of the global effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere reached 417.2 parts per million in May, 2.4ppm higher than the peak of 414.8ppm in 2019, according to readings from the Mauna Loa observatory in the US.

Without worldwide lockdowns intended to slow the spread of Covid-19, the rise might have reached 2.8ppm, according to Ralph Keeling, a professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He said it was likely they had played a small role, but that the difference was too small to show up against other factors causing year-to-year fluctuations.

 

Daily emissions of carbon dioxide fell by an average of about 17% around the world in early April, according to the a comprehensive study last month. As lockdowns are eased, however, the fall in emissions for the year as a whole is only likely to be only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. That will make no appreciable difference to the world’s ability to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and keep global heating below the threshold of 2C that scientists say is necessary to stave off catastrophic effects.

Environmental campaigners said the continued rise in emissions showed how urgently a green recovery from Covid-19 crisis was needed.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, called on the British government to do more as hosts of the next UN climate talks, Cop26, now postponed until 2021. “Just a few months of lower emissions were never likely to make a dent in the hundreds of billions tonnes of carbon that have built up over a century and a half of burning fossil fuels,” he said.

“That’s why the drop in emissions caused by the pandemic will remain just a blip unless governments get serious about building a cleaner, healthier and safer world.”

Muna Suleiman, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “ It’s clear that climate breakdown isn’t a distant idea, it’s here right now, and we have to treat it like the emergency it is.”

The complete article can be found by clicking the link at the beginning of this post.



 


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Australia is burning: is this a portent of what is to come?

As our hearts go out to the people of Australia, as they battle with unprecedented and devastating fires across the country, with lives lost, as well as homes and a billion of their unique marsupial and other wildlife species being burnt to death, I have to ask the question:

Is this one of the first of many such events that we are going to witness over the next decades?  Is this going to be the face of the effects of climate change in the future?  Are we going to witness even more harrowing events and deaths across the world?

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Photographs from Australia during the fires in recent weeks

wombat after fire

Animals that survive the fires, like this wombat pictured in New South Wales, will struggle to find food and shelter

How much more dreadful is it going to become globally, as we see multiple fires, floods, hurricanes, monsoons, high temperatures, coastal erosion and mass loss of species? Ecologists are already saying that they fear two rare species (found only on Kangaroo Island, to the south of Australia), may have been wiped out in the recent fires.  These include a small mouse-like marsupial, called a dunnart, and glossy black cockatoos. See:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/empowering-the-planet/australia-wildfires-entire-species-may-have-been-wiped-out-by-inferno-conservationists-say/ar-BBYDoQk?ocid=spartandhp

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The endangered marsupial: Kangaroo Island Dunnart

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

An article in Nature, by an Australian ecologist Michael Clarke, describes the aftermath of such terrible fires.  He says,

“It is deathly silent when you go into a forest after a fire. Apart from the ‘undertakers’ — the carrion eaters like currawongs, ravens and shrike-thrushes — picking off the dead bodies, there’s nothing much left in the forest. It’s a chilling experience.

For survivors, it’s a perilous existence in the months that follow. Any animal that manages to make it through the fire uninjured faces three major challenges. One is finding shelter from climatic extremes — places they can hide from bad weather, like a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. The second is the risk of starvation. And third, they’ve got to avoid predators like feral cats and foxes. They’re exposed; there’s nowhere to hide in a barren landscape.

Even if an animal makes it to an unburnt patch, the density of organisms trying to eke out a living will be way beyond the area’s carrying capacity. After fires in 2007, one unburnt patch I visited in the Mallee [a region in the far north of Victoria] was literally crawling with birds, all chasing one another, trying to work out who owned the last little bit of turf. It was clearly insufficient to sustain them all.

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble. During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Some animals are more resilient to fire than others. The best adapted are those that can get underground. Termite colonies happily hum along underneath these all-consuming fires. Burrow-dwelling lizards are similar.”

See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00043-2

michaelClarke

Professor Michael Clarke



 

Australia is not alone in facing wildfires. In 2018, a similar thing happened in California.  The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha), the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of December 21. Through to the end of August 2018, Cal Fire alone spent $432 million on operations. As of May 2019, insurance claims related to this fire season had reached $12 billion, most related to the Camp Fire, in Butte County (see Wikipedia). And wildfires happened in Europe too.

In India, from June to September 2019, the country received the highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. According to the India Meteorological Department, those rains are not expected to retreat until at least October 10th, which would be the latest withdrawal of the monsoon in the country’s recorded history.

indian monsoon floods

2019 monsoon flooding in India

According to Wikepedia, climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment. The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Beijing-Smog

Photograph taken in Beijing, China, where smog pollution reaches 24 times the WHO recommended safe level and children are kept from attending school as a result.

I have chosen to mention these three countries – Australia, India and China – because they were exempted from the UN Kyoto Protocol agreement, because at that time, they pleaded that they were only just beginning to industrialise and needed to be given a chance to compete with industrialised countries. This chance was given and, now, they have become amongst the highest polluting countries in the world, with China in the lead, despite its intentions to tackle climate change.  Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but I believe the UNFCCC should have had the confidence to stand firm over the Kyoto Protocol.  Because of this, many countries (including the USA – another high polluter) did not ratify it.

I came across an interesting graph a few months ago, which shows that carbon emissions have continued to climb, despite UN efforts and agreements: Rio, Kyoto and Paris and beyond.  The dates of these initiatives is marked on an ever-upwardly climbing graph of global carbon emissions.

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As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.

There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.

Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.

 

However, I believe that global warming and climate change will have multiple effects across the world; some of it will be related to food scarcity but the other effects will be more random: fires, floods, hurricanes, heat stroke, coastal erosion and the loss of islands, as well as land in low-lying countries. And, of course, the disappearance of many iconic species of wildlife. And, as a Biologist and an animal lover, I feel enormous grief over this devastating loss – and I know that I am not the only one.

Unless huge co-operative efforts are made to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the future looks bleak for all of us, including some of the wonderful and unique species with whom we share this planet. If we are seeing these effects with just 1 degree of global warming, what will it be like at 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees or even higher?  Three degrees and above are predicted if carbon emissions do not start to fall in the very near future.



 


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Can we achieve zero carbon emissions in the UK by 2025?

One of the demands being made by Extinction Rebellion (XR) is that the government act to reduce the use of fossil fuels, so that carbon emissions fall to zero within six years. Other XR groups across the world are also asking the same thing of their governments. But, is this achievable?

David Cameron signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, on behalf of the UK, but since then the government has approved fracking licences and agreed to extend Heathrow airport.  Both of which will add to the use of fossil fuels, not reduce it to zero.  This is why people are taking to the streets to protest.

Horizontal; Crowd; Kettle; Police; State

XR demonstration in Oxford Circus, asking the Government to “tell the truth” about the severity of the threat facing the world at the moment, as a consequence of global warming

The Observer’s Science Editor, Robin McKie, discussed whether XR’s demand is achievable in last Sunday’s Observer:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/21/long-road-to-zero-emissions-uk

Last year 6.8 tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted into the atmosphere per head of population in the UK. To decarbonise the nation, that figure will have to be reduced to zero. It will mean massive curtailment of travel by car or plane, major changes in food production, especially red meat, and the construction of many more wind and solar plants, to replace fossil fuels as sources of energy.

The government’s climate change committee is shortly to publish a report on how, and when, Britain can achieve this status and play its part in the battle against global warming. It is expected that the committee will opt for a different target as Britain’s  decarbonisation date, 2050 rather than 2025. According to this scenario, developed nations, including Britain, would aim to achieve zero-emissions status by 2050 and then use other technologies to achieve this goal, such as hydrogen plants, carbon dioxide storage vaults and advanced renewable generators.

There has been some progress in reducing Britain’s use of fossil fuels to generate energy. In 2013, 62.5% of UK electricity was generated by oil, coal and gas stations, while renewable provided only 14.5%. In 2018, the figure for oil, coal and gas had been reduced to 44% while renewables were generating 31.7%. And, during the Easter weekend, whilst the XR demonstrations took place, it has been reported that the country was able to rely on only renewables for a short period – this was probably because we were undergoing a heat wave – the hottest Easter on record, so there was not much demand for extra heating.  Also, I suspect that when when calculations are made about the use of renewables, nuclear power generated electricity in included in the figures.  We all know the risks associated with nuclear power and the difficulties in disposing safely of nuclear waste.

We have yet to be given a date when engineers expect the last UK fossil-fuelled power plant to produce its final watts of electricity and to emit its last emissions of carbon dioxide.

The problem is that 90% of the British people use gas boilers to heat their centrally-heated homes, producing hot water and heating at the flick of a switch. Getting people to change from this will be difficult.  One solution would be to price gas out of common use, by putting increasingly heavy carbon taxes on household supplies so people can no longer afford them and are forced to change heating systems.  Would this be popular?

28.4.19

This article in the Observer generated a couple of letters published in the paper the following week.  The first from Dave Lewis, Cornwall was as follows:

“Robin McKie’s piece correctly identifies Extinction Rebellion’s demand for a zero-carbon UK by 2025 as being hugely costly and politically difficult… He provides a detailed examination of what some experts prefer as a more realistic target of 2050, though even this is difficult. The IPCC’s most recent warnings about the dangers of a temperature rise exceeding 1.5ºC abobe pre-industrial levels surely mean that avoiding this must be the key global policy objective.

The articles last two paragraphs show that at current carbon dioxide emission rates (42 bn tonnes per annum) the world will exceed the limit (420 bn tonnes) at which there is a ‘two in three chance of keeping global warming down to around  1.5ºC’ in just 10 years’ time. If the aim is to meet this target, 2050 doesn’t seem in any way ‘more realistic’ as a target for a zero-carbon Britain.  It does seem ‘more realistic’ if the aim is to avoid costly and politically difficult decisions by kicking the can further down the road. Which is how we got where we are.

No wonder people are rebellious. It looks like a bit more rebellion is still required.”

The other letter, from David Watkin, Leicester, drew attention to the spreading interest of US firms in developing space travel and space tourism. He suggests that the arguments put forward in Robin McKie’s article should include an assessment of the potential future contribution of space rockets to CO2 output.

space rocket

launch of space rocket at Kennedy space centre



Another journal reporting on the zero carbon target is the New Scientist (27th April 2019):

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2200269-climate-protesters-want-net-zero-carbon-emissions-is-it-possible/

This article has a different take from the one in the Guardian.  It talks about the changing targets for zero emissions, as the 2050 figure was set when 2º of warming was the target, rather than 1.5º, which is the new target, since the IPPC report.  It lists those countries which are trying to make the target, some earlier than 2050: Sweden, France, Norway, Portugal, Costa Rica, Marshall Islands and New Zealand.

It also discusses what “net zero” means. Is it just about carbon dioxide or does it include all greenhouse gases? He also talks about measures introduced to absorb excess carbon dioxide, such as reforestation and carbon capture.

There is also an interesting graph, which compares total carbon emissions between the UK, Sweden and New Zealand.  The UK is currently far higher than the other two countries, so has a lot more work to do to reach net zero.

Further discussion on the 2025 XR target can be found at:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2200755-the-science-behind-extinction-rebellions-three-climate-change-demands/



 


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15-year-old Girl Breaks Swedish Law for the Climate

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In August, Greta Thunberg skipped school to protest outside the Swedish Parliament about their inaction about climate change.

Sweden

She was supposed to start school again after a long summer break. But instead of rejoining her classmates, she seated herself against the stone facade of the Swedish Parliament’s main building in central Stockholm.

The spot was well chosen, as many politicians, professionals and ordinary people pass by daily. Next to her, she placed a sign that read “School Strike for the Climate”. She also brought with her is a pile of leaflets, on which her demands had been clearly written.  She was later joined by other people, including a teacher.

Sweden2

In October, Greta came to London by electric car to join the launch of the Extinction Rebellion movement in Parliament Square, where she also gave a speech.  This is what she said:

“When I was about eight years old, I first heard about something called climate change, or global warming. Apparently, that was something humans had created by our way of living. I was told to turn off the lights to save energy and to recycle paper to save resources.

I remember thinking that it was very strange, that humans who are an animal species among others, could be capable of changing the earth’s climate. Because, if we were and if it was really happening, we wouldn’t be talking about anything else. As soon as you turned on the TV, everything would be about that. Headlines, radio, newspapers. You would never read or hear about anything else. As if there was a world war going on.

But. No one never talked about it.

If burning fossil fuels was so bad, that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it made illegal?

To me, that did not add up. It was too unreal.

I have Asperger’s syndrome, and to me, almost everything is black or white.

I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before. If the emissions have to stop then we must stop the emissions. To me, that is black or white. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t. We have to change.

Countries like Sweden and the UK need to start reducing emissions by at least 15% every year. And that is so that we can stay below a 2-degree warming target. Now the IPCC says that we have to aim for 1,5 degrees. So we can only imagine what that means. You would think every one of our leaders and the media would be talking about nothing else — but no one ever mentions it. Nor does anyone ever mention anything about the greenhouse gases already locked in the system, nor that air pollution is hiding a warming, so when we stop burning fossil fuels, we already have an extra 0,5 to 1,1 degrees celsius guaranteed.

Nor does hardly anyone ever mention that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction, with about 200 species going extinct every single day.

Furthermore, does no one ever speak about the aspect of equity, or climate justice, clearly stated everywhere in the Paris agreement and the Kyoto protocol, which is absolutely necessary to make the Paris agreement work, on a global scale. That means that rich countries need to get down to zero emissions, within 6–12 years, so that people in poorer countries can heighten their standard of living by building some of the infrastructures that we have already built. Such as roads, hospitals, electricity, schools, and clean drinking water. Because how can we expect countries like India or Nigeria to care about the climate crisis if we, who already have everything, don’t care even a second about it or our actual commitments to the Paris agreement?

So, why are we not reducing our emissions? Why are they, in fact, still increasing? Are we knowingly causing a mass extinction? Are we evil?

No, of course not. People keep doing what they do because the vast majority doesn’t have a clue about the consequences of our everyday life. And they don’t know the rapid changes required.

Since, as I said before, no one talks about it. There are no headlines, no emergency meetings, no breaking news. No one is acting as if we were in a crisis. Even most green politicians and climate scientists go on flying around the world, eating meat and dairy.

If I live to be 100 I will be alive in the year 2103.

When you think about “the future” today, you don’t think beyond the year 2050. By then I will, in the best case, not even have lived half of my life. What happens next?

The year 2078 I will celebrate my 75th birthday.

What we do or don’t do, right now, will affect my entire life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren.

When school started in August this year I decided that this was enough. I sat myself down on the ground outside the Swedish parliament. I school strikes for the climate.

Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ”solve the climate crisis”. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.

And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more, when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts within the school system when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society?

A lot of people say that Sweden is just a small country and that it doesn’t matter what we do. But I think that if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we all could do together if we wanted to.

Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground.

So we can’t save the world by playing by the rules. Because the rules have to be changed.

Everything needs to change. And it has to start today.

So everyone out there, it is now time for civil disobedience, it is time to rebel.”

Greta Thunberg

The above text is written by Greta Thunberg. It was published on the Extinction Rebellion website with Greta Thunberg’s approval.

Greta Thunberg at the ‘Declaration of Rebellion’, Parliament Square, London, UK.



January 25th 2019

Greta’s action has started a worldwide movement, with children on every continent (apart from Antarctica) striking to draw attention to climate change.  This week, she has travelled by train to Davos, accompanied by Swiss children, who are striking in this resort and others.  She will be speaking at the international summit in Davos, having already addressed the UN climate change COP 24 conference in Katowice, Poland.  Further details of her actions and those of children around the world can be found at:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/24/school-strikes-over-climate-change-continue-to-snowball?utm_term=RWRpdG9yaWFsX0dyZWVuTGlnaHQtMTkwMTI1&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GreenLight&CMP=greenlight_email

gretathunberg in davos

Greta Thunberg in Davos

 



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The Carbon Footprint of Smartphones

A report in March 2018 from Fastcodesign suggests that smartphones are far from being carbon-neutral devices.  Analysis has shown that buying a new smartphone consumes as much energy as continuing to use one’s old smartphone for another 10 years.  The report suggests that it is better to buy a new battery than to upgrade.

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Researchers at McMaster University analysed the carbon impact of the whole ICT industry for the period 2010-2020. This included PCs, laptops, monitors, smartphones, and servers.   They found that the overall environmental impact of technology from 2007 has increased for 1% to the 14% predicted for 2040.

Smartphones have a particularly strong effect. With a two-year average life cycle, they’re more or less disposable. The problem is that building a new smartphone–and specifically, mining the rare materials inside them–represents 85% to 95% of the device’s total CO2 emissions for two years. That means buying one new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for an entire decade.

An independent study of Apple iPhones concluded that the iPhone 6s created 57% more CO2 than the iPhone 4s, even though Apple claim that their more recent iPhones are environmentally friendly.  See:

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment (August 2015), Vol. 20, 8, 1181-1196.  Authors Suckling and Lee.

Another independent study found that the iPhone 6s creates 57% more CO2 than the iPhone 4s.  The article suggests that even keeping a smartphone for three years, rather than two, can have a considerable impact on a person’s carbon footprint.  It’s down to the need for mining the rare minerals needed to make a new phone.  This sounds like a similar situation to that I described in another post of this website, in which the mining of cobalt (in Africa) for a new electric car can create more environmental damage that continuing to drive an old petrol-driven car.  It’s greener to keep an old phone than upgrade to a new one.

The full report by Mark Wilson can be found at:

https://www.fastcodesign.com/90165365/smartphones-are-wrecking-the-planet-faster-than-anyone-expected

 

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Mayor of London’s new Environmental Strategy

A few month’s ago, I posted details on this site of how to contribute to the consultation on London’s Environmental Strategy.  Now it has been published and can be found at the following website:

Click to access london_environment_strategy.pdf

It includes sections on:

Mayor’s foreword
Chapter 1: London’s environment today
Chapter 2: Transforming London’s environment
Chapter 3: New approaches
Chapter 4: Air quality
Chapter 5: Green infrastructure
Chapter 6: Climate change mitigation and energy
Chapter 7: Waste
Chapter 8: Adapting to climate change
Chapter 9: Ambient noise
Chapter 10: Transition to a low carbon circular economy
Chapter 11: GLA group operations – leading by example

and is well-illustrated with colour photographs and graphic representation of data, collected as part of the development of strategy.  There are some big plans in it, one of which is to become the cleanest (least polluted) major city in the world, becoming a zero carbon city by 2050.

Chapter 6 is a lengthy section on Climate Change.  It provides data on carbon emissions by sector for the city in 2015.  These can be broken down into:

Workplaces 40% of emissions; Homes 36% of emissions; Transport 24% of emissions.

An appendix sets out a pathway to reach the target of zero emissions by 2050.

 


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Dr Mayer Hillman’s contribution to knowledge about climate change reality

Dr Mayer Hillman is an 86-year old social scientist and he has been contributing articles about carbon emissions, global warming and climate change for much of his life.  A recent article in The Guardian sets out his current stance.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/26/were-doomed-mayer-hillman-on-the-climate-reality-no-one-else-will-dare-mention

In an interview with Patrick Barkham, published on 26th April 2018, he points out that, because humans are so dependent on fossil fuels, there is not much longer for this planet to sustain life here.  He believes that climate change is in runaway mode and that “we are doomed” (to quote The Guardian headline).

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Dr Hillman is a senior fellow emeritus of the Policy Studies Institute and has contributed over the years to a number of policy decisions, one of which was a recommendation that homes should be energy-rated, finally adopted by Government in 2007.  He has also, for more than 40 years, challenged society’s preoccupation with economic growth.

He has been a keen cyclist, though cannot cycle at present for health reasons.  He is quoted in The Guardian article as saying:

“With doom ahead, making a case for cycling as the primary mode of transport is almost irrelevant,” he says. “We’ve got to stop burning fossil fuels. So many aspects of life depend on fossil fuels, except for music and love and education and happiness. These things, which hardly use fossil fuels, are what we must focus on.”

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Dr Hillman has done much work in the past on road safety and has written at length about society’s failure to challenge the supremacy of the car.

In 2016 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was confirmed as beyond 400 parts per million, the highest level for at least three million years (when sea levels were up to 20m higher than now). Hillman is quoted as saying, “Concentrations can only drop if we emit no carbon dioxide whatsoever. “Even if the world went zero-carbon today that would not save us because we’ve gone past the point of no return.”

Most of Dr Hillman’s comments are in line with the theme of my book, so I recommend readers to look at The Guardian article to learn more about his predictions.


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Open Letter to Party Leaders on Climate Change and the UK Economy – from Scientists for Global Responsibility

Open letter sent to the eight political party leaders at the UK parliament on 13 June 2017:
Dear Madam/ Sir

In the wake of the inconclusive general election result and bearing in mind the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, we are writing to leaders of UK parliamentary parties to urge you to unite around a common cause – tackling climate change – as a way of helping to provide major economic, social and environmental benefits at this time of uncertainty. Not only does there continue to be there very strong scientific evidence on the urgency of this global threat, but measures to tackle it offer major opportunities to exploit science and technology to create jobs, tackle fuel poverty, reduce local air pollution and provide many other co-benefits for British society. The UK could capitalise on the renewed international commitment to tackling climate change in the wake of the ill-informed decision of President Trump to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement.

We have noted the widespread commitment to tackling climate change in the party manifestos. While there is some diversity in the approaches, there are many common factors. Hence, as a priority, we urge strong support for:

  • Home energy conservation programmes. These will both reduce carbon emissions and help to tackle fuel poverty, which is estimated to be responsible for nearly 8,000 UK deaths a year.1
  • Renewable energy projects – especially wind, solar, marine and biogas technologies and community-led projects. With costs for many of these falling rapidly, the potential economic and employment benefits are very large2 – and government opinion polling shows these technologies are especially popular.3
  • Energy storage technologies, including batteries, power-to-gas systems, and pumped hydro storage. Many of these technologies are already rapidly falling in cost, and they have high potential to complement the variable renewable energy sources.4 Electric vehicles will play a key role here, and their widespread adoption will help to reduce the number of UK deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution, currently estimated at 40,000 per year.5

We further recommend the following additional actions, which we strongly believe will complement those above:

  • End subsidies for fossil fuels, especially for unconventional sources like shale gas. The growth of a large-scale shale gas industry in this country is likely to seriously undermine Britain’s climate targets, as the Committee on Climate Change has warned.6 Furthermore, the technique of hydraulic fracturing (or ‘fracking’) is not popular with the British public,7 partly as it creates significant risks for the local environment.
  • End new commitments to nuclear power stations. These create unique and unresolved economic, security, environmental and safety risks.

Finally, we urge you to use any political influence you have in the USA to try to convince President Trump that climate change is a serious threat to his country as well as the world, and that his government needs to change course. Indeed, his failure to support cleaner industries in his own country is very likely to have a negative impact on the economy there.

We would be interested to hear your thoughts on our recommendations.

 

Your sincerely

Dr Stuart Parkinson

Executive Director

Dr Philip Webber

Chair

 

References

1. Energy Bill Revolution (2015). Fuel poverty. http://www.energybillrevolution.org/fuel-poverty/

2. REN21 (2017). Renewables 2017 Global Status Report. http://www.ren21.net/gsr-2017/

3. BEIS (2017). Energy and Climate Change Public Attitudes Tracker. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/public-attitudes-tracking-survey

4. Goodall C (2016). The Switch: How solar, storage and new tech means cheap power for all. Profile Books.

5. Royal College of Physicians et al (2016). Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution. https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution

6. Committee on Climate Change (2016). The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets. https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/onshore-petroleum-the-compatibility-of-uk-onshore-petroleum-with-meeting-carbon-budgets/

7. As note 3.

 http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2989043/open_letter_to_party_leaders_on_climate_change_and_the_uk_economy.html


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The Economy

CHAPTER 7

The economy sometimes seems like a mysterious thing to ordinary people – something that is hard to understand – but there is nothing mysterious about it really.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the state of a country in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services and the supply of money”.  So, in everyday language it is how we, as a country, make use of available money, to ensure that everybody has enough to live on. In a way, it is about balancing the books on a national scale.  It is about money.

fig59

Fig. 59

I have been able to discover five different types of economy. Before the industrial revolution, local communities in the UK lived largely in farming cultures and the economic system was structured around this. But this changed significantly as the industrial revolution gained momentum.  An agrarian economic system has also been called A Traditional Economy, and some countries which did not become industrialised, still use this type of economic system.  Other countries, which followed Britain in becoming industrialised, developed economies based on trading links and, like the UK, developed A Market Economy, which is largely regulated by demand and supply.  For some, a market economy is another way of describing Capitalism. Some countries have a mixture of traditional and market economies, called A Mixed Economy.  Yet other parts of the world have government control of their economies and this has been termed A Command Economy or totalitarianism; this would include countries like North Korea.

A recent article by Pat Conaty describes a Collaborative Economy for the Common Good70.  He suggests that co-operatives and social enterprises are bringing a new dimension to national economies and have been more successful in delivering growth than market economies (in Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Canada etc.). Some call it community economic development whilst others call it a social economy.  From this has developed a Solidarity Economy, which seeks to secure systemic change by organising small business and self-employed networks, bringing them into a collaborative economy movement.  Such an economy is gaining strength across Europe, as it is based on serving the welfare of people and planet.

The relationship between trade and economies

In chapter 4, I discussed trading systems and how market economies first developed. One suggestion mooted there was that each country, instead of getting involved in complex and comprehensive international trading, should seek to be self-sufficient, only importing goods that they cannot produce themselves.  However, I am pragmatic enough to realise that this is not going to happen overnight, as there are too many vested interests in the business world.  So in this chapter, I will be looking at other measures that could be introduced, by modifying a market economy to a different (and new) form of economy, which helps to reduce the escalation of carbon emissions.

An uncontrolled market economy

But first, I want to look at the reality of what happens in an uncontrolled market economy. One way of doing this is to look at the measures introduced in the UK by the Conservative government since 2010, which wholeheartedly supports a market economy.  These measures are set within the context of a belief that encouraging big business is the only means of making a country wealthy.  Thus, the government introduced measures that enhanced the opportunities of the business world to make money: cutting taxes for the richest 4% and for corporations, whilst reducing the amount spent on benefits for the disabled and for the poorest in society.  The measures were introduced in the name of so-called austerity which, the government argued, is necessary for reducing the deficit in the balance of payments.  In practical terms, the outcome of this is that the government is giving away to the richest people in Britain more money than they are saving by reducing benefits for the disabled and the poorest in society. This does not make sense in a civilised society, as it will lead to further divisions and discontent in society, with the poorest becoming ever more militant.

fig60

Fig.60   used by permission

And big business, empowered by the extra money they have been given, use it to continue manufacturing and selling those products which add to emissions of carbon products and other pollutants.  This enhances the rate at which climate change is escalating.  So, in addition to being in the ever-speeding Industrial Revolution (IR) Continuum, our present government is encouraging businesses to feed that continuum, so that it runs ever more quickly out of control, producing ever more carbon emissions in the process.

A sensible economy in today’s circumstances needs to reduce carbon emissions, encourage businesses which produce goods and services which reduce carbon emissions and maintain its benefits systems for the poorest and most disadvantaged.

A market economy provides unfettered freedom for businesses to carry out their activities, with little government control and little expectation that they will show responsibility for those less well off than themselves, or any responsibility for restricting climate change.  And the UK is not alone in encouraging this. It happens in most of the industrialised countries of the world, which are in vigorous competition with each other.  Businesses like this freedom of course, to make as much money as they can, but this should not be at the expense of the planet, nor of the poorest in our society.

David Cameron swept to power in the UK in 2010, saying that his would be the “greenest government ever”. Jonathon Porritt, in his article: “The Coalition Government 2010-2015; The Greenest Government Ever: By no stretch of the imagination”61 has demonstrated that, in fact, carbon emissions increased during that term of office (2010-15). This has been reinforced by an article by Michael Le Page in the New Scientist, entitled “Ungreen and not-so-pleasant land”62. Le Page provides statistics that show that the UK is not on track to meet its climate goals (agreed in Kyoto Summit 1997) and that, rather than increasing its efforts to do this, the government has blocked a series of green measures, thus leading the country even further off course.  Perhaps the most contentious is the proposed axing of feed-in-tariffs (FITs), which were available to people investing in solar panels for their domestic electricity needs.  Because of these changes the UK has now slipped from 8th to 11th in the RECAI table73. (Renewable energy country attractiveness, published by www.ey.com).

Rewarding the rich is not the only way of creating wealth for a country.  A recent article by Donald Braben, also in The New Scientist74, stated that it can be demonstrated that innovation is more likely to produce growth than existing market economy methods.  His thesis is based on the history of scientific discoveries which, indeed, started off the industrial revolution in the first place. He has shown that some of the biggest scientific discoveries in our history led to the greatest growth in the economy. If this is true then, rather than funding big business, we should be funding research into new innovatory discoveries, such as carbon-free steel.  I would add a rider to this, that the innovation encouraged in this way should also be about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

People who like to make money, in any part of the world, appear to have a mind-set that it is their right to do so without hindrance.  Many have no conscience about the impact of their money-making on others and have little compassion for those who are the victims of their acquisitiveness, whether they are those in poverty, members of the animal kingdom or, indeed, the whole planet (see also in Chapter 4 – Paul Tudor Jones II).

Table 4:  RECAI List of renewable energy country attractiveness (first 15 countries in the list) as at Sept 2015.  (See: http://www.ey.com/Publication/vwLUAssets/RECAI-45-September-15-LR/$FILE/RECAI_45_Sept_15_LR.pdf)

_________________________________________________________________ 

table4

_________________________________________________________________

Tax evasion (mainly by the rich) is a major source of lost funds for the economy (£5 billion a year), yet it is often the people who need to claim benefits who are castigated for playing the system.  A recent article by James Bloodworth in The Independent75 showed that four times more money is lost to the economy by tax evasion than by benefit fraud, though the difference may be even greater than this if incompetence within the DWP is taken into consideration (www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/its-time-to-bust-some-myths-about-benefit-fraud-and-tax-evasion). He described this as a double standard, with one rule for the rich and another for the poor

fig61

                                                                     Fig.61                                                                                           with permission from David Baldinger

In the last few years in Britain a number of scandals have been uncovered, all related to this same acquisitiveness: MPs claiming expenses they were not eligible for, bankers and chief executives getting bonuses, even when they have failed in the job; companies and individuals avoiding the payment of taxes, by using offshore business accounts – and so on. All of these are linked to the same acquisitiveness that fuels a market economy.  And the general public in this country have had enough of this.  They want to see some honesty – in politicians and in big business – and to see signs of the responsibility referred to above.

A recent scandal has been leaked about the super-rich hiding away their fortunes in tax havens, with details of the names of some of the people who are doing this.  As a result, the Prime Minister of Iceland has had to resign and this may be followed by other resignations.  Yet, we knew 6 years ago, in a study reported by Heather Stewart in the Guardian76, that a staggering 21 trillion dollars has been lost to the global economy through tax revenues, as it has been stashed away in tax havens.

 

fig62

Fig.62

Yet it is encouraging that, recently, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney77, made some warning statements in a dinner speech, that the impact climate change could trigger a new financial crisis and derail the economy, as it currently stands.  He based this analysis on the effects climate change has had in Britain on the insurance industry.  Since the 1980s, the number of weather-related events, such as storms and floods, has tripled and the cost to insurers has increased from £6.5 billion to £33 billion, mainly to cover the cost of damaged property and of disrupted trade. He warned that, once climate change becomes a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late.

What he identified is that much of the current financial investment is in companies which will be affected by climate change, such as energy suppliers, insurance companies, and oil suppliers etc., whose share prices will fall as climate change begins to bite. If these companies then fail, due to the pressures on them, the value of all kinds of investments, such as pensions and savings, could be affected.  In the case of energy companies, if they do not convert to sustainable forms of energy, the pressure to reduce carbon emissions will also make them vulnerable to a reduction in the value of their shares. Oil companies and other polluting industries may be besieged by increasing numbers of claims upon them for compensation. This is already happening for Volkswagen, through their deception about carbon emissions from their diesel cars; and is likely to happen to ExxonMobil, who actively deceived the public about the reality of climate change over many years.  The US coal giant, Peabody Energy, has already filed for bankruptcy.

If a financial crisis does occur and affects pensions, for example, the consequent loss of value (and potential income to pensioners) will come at a time when unprecedented numbers of people in the population reach pensionable age.  The financial future of many thousands of people could thus be bleak.

This winter, there has been another catastrophic flooding event in the north of England, damaging many people’s homes and putting even more pressure on the insurance industry, as well as causing £1.5 billion worth of damage to bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

Also, a recent investigation has shown that, of 20 zones earmarked by the UK government for the building of new homes, five were hit with alerts and warnings during these recent floods and storms.

fig63

                                                                          Fig.63                                                                                                                                       Flooding in Appleby, Cumbria

fig64

                          Fig.64    The destruction of Pooley Bridge, Cumbria by flooding

From: www.bbc.co.uk

There is growing evidence that population growth and, more significantly, economic growth are the most important drivers in the increase in CO₂ emissions. Since 1970, emissions of CO₂ from fossil fuel combustion and industrial processes contributed to about 78% of the total GHG emission increase78.

Professor Justin Lewis, in an article to The Independent79 about a growing right-leaning bias in the BBC, argues that there is now a growing body of evidence suggesting that a model of permanent economic growth is of dwindling benefit to wealthy countries such as the UK. He cites research which shows that GDP growth is no longer linked to improvements in health or happiness, is environmentally unsustainable and stretches commodity choice far beyond the time we have available to us as consumers. He concludes that there is a serious debate about whether wealthy consumer economies should still rely on growth to generate prosperity.

Thus, there is an urgent need for the development of a new economic system.  Just as the industrial revolution became the trigger for a change from agrarian economies to a market economy, there needs to be a development of a new economic system that is triggered by climate change.  I do feel that the balance of the economy can be, and should be, adjusted to allow for the crisis that is heading our way.  We can no longer continue to run the economy as if nothing is happening, with businesses maximising their short-term profit, with no heed for the wider damage that their activities are doing.  It is not “Business as Usual”. Those who currently make vast profits from a market economy, and who promote it as the only way forward, need to take stock and change their attitudes and behaviour.  Our planet can no longer sustain the robbing of its resources, and the contamination of its atmosphere, in the name of progress (see chapter 3).

fig65

Fig.65

Richard Douthwaite, in his book entitled “The Growth Illusion: How economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many and endangered the planet6,80, states that economic growth does not have the benefits that many (mainly economists) claim for it. He demonstrates that, if the rate of growth is fast enough, there may be increased business profits and extra jobs but little improvements in the lives of ordinary people.  Douthwaite goes on to say that the benefits for businesses come at the cost of lower wages and reduced job security.  He also comments that achieving growth through the global system exposes each of us personally, and the countries to which we belong, to much higher levels of financial and environmental risk than did the more nation-state-based economies of earlier generations.  A full quotation from Douthwaite is given at the end of this chapter (5).

Both Douthwaite6 and Fletcher81 (in “Free Trade Doesn’t Work”, 2010) are of the opinion that economists have got things badly wrong, most of their theories being based on inappropriate mathematical equations.  This thesis is further developed by Paul Krugman in the New York Times82 in an article entitled, “How did Economists get it so Wrong?”

George Monbiot also addresses the issue of the mathematics being wrong in his article to The Guardian82 and on his website. The article suggests that the calculations have given a false sense of reduction in the use of the earth’s resources because they have failed to include goods purchased from abroad in the equation.  Indeed, if you look at the UK alone, where carbon dioxide emissions apparently fell by 194 million tonnes between 2002 and 2012 (using the wrong calculations), the real figure cancels this out and gives in fact an increase in emissions, related to the commissioning and importing of goods.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF)83 has done much work on alternative, more sustainable, economic systems. They are the UK’s leading think tank on promoting social, economic and environmental justice. Their aim is to transform the economy, so that it works for people and the planet. However, one learns that they have received a large government grant to develop their work.  Let us hope that they remain objective and are not influenced in their thinking by right-wing pressures.

They state on their website that:

A strong national economy needs a flourishing network of local economies. These are shown to give resilience in times of crisis, but are consistently undermined by the sprawl of supermarkets and other chains – the kind of businesses that are most likely to up and leave in times of trouble. We should be ensuring that money stays in local communities rather than leaking out to distant head offices, and encouraging a range of diverse high streets rather than clone towns.”

 On Bankers and Banking, they state:

A dysfunctional financial sector led us to the brink of disaster in 2008, and yet bank reforms aren’t going far enough to tackle the root causes of the economic crisis. Our four big banks remain too big to fail, and continue to engage in the risky and unproductive activities that caused the crash. We need to establish a more stable, sustainable and socially useful banking system.

 Jeremy Corbyn, in an article to The Times84, stated that Britain must empower citizen suppliers and direct private investment into green technology. He believes that our weakened public services will not be able to cope with the consequences of drastic weather events, such as the floods in Cumbria (2015) and Somerset (2013-4). He states that we need carbon budgeting to be the centrepiece of trade and commerce, taking the planet back to sustainable levels of CO₂ emissions.  Environmental politics must include people working in today’s economy and decisions by government must not take us backwards but must instead invest in the huge opportunities that the low-carbon sector offers.

Colin Tudge presented a paper entitled “Economic Renaissance: Holistic Economics for the 21st century”85 to a think tank at the Schumacher college in 2007.  The think tank explored what the key components are of an economic system which would successfully achieve poverty elimination, climate sustainability and human fulfilment.  What kind of economy do we need to protect ecosystems and people’s livelihoods at the same time?

Professor Richard Murphy and Colin Hines wrote a report for discussion at the Paris 2015 Summit86, which provides solutions for how new green measures might be funded.  The suggestion is that some of the funds already allocated for Quantitative Easing to keep the financial system afloat by the European Central Bank (€7 trillion of new money being printed), should be allocated in the form of Climate QE to save the planet – a figure of €10 million a month is suggested.  This could be used in the form of climate change bonds from the European Investment Bank.  These funds could then be directed to climate change programmes in Europe and in developing countries.

fig66

Fig.66  European currency

 

Other economists have suggested a different form of Quantitative Easing87.

Some countries have introduced a carbon tax and, in some cases, this has been successful in lowering carbon emissions88. Sweden has been particularly successful, first introducing a carbon tax in 1991. Their economy has grown by 50% since that time89 and their emissions of greenhouse gases have declined and been decoupled from economic growth. The OECD report89, which looks in detail at a number of pollution factors showed that Sweden has cleaner air than most other countries in the world (OECD Environmental Performance Reviews Sweden 2014).

The experience of Australia has been different90.  They introduced a carbon tax in 2012, whilst led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard under a coalition with the Greens.  This act was extremely unpopular and was repealed two years later by Prime Minister Tony Abbot.  Full details of how they implemented the carbon tax can be found in Wikipedia.  The chart in figure 69 shows the carbon emissions falling during the carbon tax period (2012-14) and then increasing again after it was repealed90.  The decision to repeal the tax has led to Australia slipping from 10th to 13th in the RECAI list (see Table 4).

 fig67

 Fig.67  Carbon emissions in Australia before and after the carbon tax was repealed

A report from Climate News Network91 indicates that Brazil, whose president Dilma Rousseff is at risk of being impeached, will dismantle their environmental protection laws after the impeachment, in defiance of commitments made in the Paris Agreement. It would appear that the leaders in the impeachment process are businessmen who would benefit from these laws being repealed.  Here is yet another female leader, who introduced environmental safeguards, being undermined by big business.  Brazil has just suffered the worst environmental disaster in its history:  the bursting of a dam of toxic mud last year in Minas Gerais state.  All animal and plant life was destroyed by this disaster, which is said to be the worst since Chernobyl.

Fergus Green, a Policy Analyst and Research Advisor to Professor Stern, recently published a paper, which gave evidence that a nation can develop and implement green policies, without damaging the economy92. The paper was issued to encourage discussion on the issues.

Professor Nicholas Stern has written a paper for Nature93 in which he says that current economic models tend to underestimate seriously both the potential impacts of dangerous climate change and the wider benefits of a transition to low-carbon growth. He thinks that there is an urgent need for a new generation of models that give a more accurate picture and suggests that researchers across a range of disciplines (economics, engineering, science) work together to help those developing policy.

Other ideas have been to develop a system whereby the worst polluters have to foot the bill for cleaning up the damage they have wreaked on the planet.

Another group, linked to Feasta, have come up with a suggestion of capping the use of fossil fuels globally by introducing a global taxation system94.  CapGlobalCarbon (CGC) aims to ensure that the aggregate global emissions from fossil fuels steadily decrease to zero. This would be achieved by a progressively tightening cap on fossil fuel extraction.  Revenues from the extraction permits would be used to benefit the lowest consumers of fossil fuels. Such compensation could substantially alleviate poverty and reduce global inequality. By steadily and predictably reducing the global dependence on fossil fuels the process would also hasten a smooth transition to a zero-carbon economy.

Yet, despite all these well-argued documents and postings, in the UK at least, our present Government in the UK is rushing headlong into yet another era of austerity measures, based on the old economics, promoting growth and rewarding big business at the expense of the environment and the poorest in our society.  And part of their strategy in taking this forward is to reduce spending on, and support for, green initiatives, aimed at reducing carbon emissions.

I am not an economist so I don’t feel qualified to come up with a new system; there are others much better qualified than me to do this.  All I have done here is to demonstrate how everything in this world is interconnected: ecosystems, the stratosphere, the industrial revolution and its continuum, population explosion, trading systems, weaponry and war, the rise of big business and bankers and the failed economics which they promote.  This interconnectedness means that, if any one of these goes wrong or out of balance, then this will bring down all the others in a domino effect.  Denial of this effect has only made things worse, with so much more to do to reverse the destruction.

It is interesting that the word economy has a similar root (eco) to the word ecosystem or ecology. I am told that eco comes from the Greek oikos, meaning ‘house’ or ‘household’.  I have shown in this book how ecosystems and the economy are inter-connected but what is needed is a new form of economy – or a new discipline – that appraises the needs of both through this inter-connectedness.  Perhaps we should call it ecosystomics – a new form of the economy that provides for the human race, without damaging the ecosystems of the world.

Although I am not an economist, I feel I must put together some pointers (or suggestions) for those who do have the ability to construct such a system, making the changes necessary to have a balanced green economy.  Shall I call it Economy 6?  My readers may wish to add to it. It is my first venture into the new discipline of ecosytomics.

Suggestions for Economy 6

Some measures which might move us towards a new, balanced, green economy:

  • For the introduction of greater incentive schemes to encourage businesses to develop, use and market greener technologies and to penalise those who don’t. Examples of this could include: using and developing renewable forms of energy; phasing out motor vehicles which use petrol or diesel and introducing those that run on easily-accessible clean energy;
  • Investing in research institutions which have the ability to develop innovative solutions to today’s climate-change problems;
  • Introducing legislation to reduce the use of the motor car, such as restricting the number of cars owned by each household, unless they run on clean energy;
  • Phasing out coal-fired power generation and ending fossil fuel subsidies;
  • Introducing a carbon tax on those companies who continue to use fossil fuels;
  • Rebalancing the economy, so that the rich are not rewarded for irresponsible behaviour that adds to the carbon load;
  • Setting targets, for meaningful reductions in carbon emissions by an early date, as suggested by Desmond Tutu in his petition (chapter 1) and ensuring that the calculations for this are correct;
  • Phasing out nuclear power and nuclear weapons worldwide and re-channelling the money saved into the incentive-schemes and investments mentioned above;
  • Proper funding of those institutions regulating the tax system, so that tax evasion and avoidance is properly penalised;
  • Shifting the tax system to penalise those activities which need to be discouraged, such as greenhouse gas emissions and the accumulation of wealth;
  • Banning certain household appliances and gadgets, which are not necessary and only add to the carbon load;
  • Establishing a new institution, which will monitor the use of fossil fuels by companies and promote, and provide support for, the use of greener forms of energy;
  • Encourage less air travel, by raising awareness about the damage this is doing to the planet and encouraging airlines to invest instead in technologies that do not damage the planet;
  • Work globally with other partners to reduce deforestation;
  • Re-balancing international trading systems, so that goods and animals are not transported unnecessarily across continents and seas, adding to the carbon load;
  • Encouraging countries worldwide to be self-sufficient in terms of goods and resources, so that goods are not imported which can be produced internally;
  • Re-think and re-balance entirely transnational trading systems;
  • Work globally to find a better means of international co-operation in working jointly to reduce and reverse that damage that is currently being done to the planet;
  • Encourage partnerships between local government and local cooperatives and social enterprises;
  • Encouraging the setting up of local groups (3G groups), where individuals can meet together to share what they are doing to reduce their carbon emissions and to encourage each other to keep going with it, even if the majority of others are still in denial (3G stands for three generations – the amount of time we have left).

Some of the ideas above are already being worked on, and others are not about changing the economic system but about reducing carbon emissions, but I hope these are a starting point for others to add to, if we are really serious about taking meaningful anti-climate-change measures before it is too late.

Green Economy is not a new expression.  It has been promoted by other groups, including the European Environment Agency, who produced the diagram in Fig.68:

fig68

Their definition of a Green Economy is one that generates increasing prosperity while maintaining the natural systems that sustain us95.

Their website goes on to say that:

  1. Historically, the trend has not been towards green growth. On the contrary, economic expansion has imposed ever greater demands on natural systems — both in terms of the amount of resources that we extract or harvest, and the volume of emissions and waste that we expect the environment to absorb and neutralise.
  2. As is increasingly understood, this cannot continue indefinitely: the environment has natural limits in terms of how much it can provide and absorb.

There is also a body called “The Green Economy Coalition”, which is a global network of organisations committed to accelerating a transition to a new green inclusive economy96. They believe the crisis we are in is profound and that piecemeal policy change is not good enough. They want to see deep-rooted transformation and the courage to forge a new economic vision.

Their vision is to develop an economy that provides a better quality of life for all, within the ecological limits of the planet. They are working on five action areas to make that vision a reality:

  • Managing our natural systems – people and economies depend on nature for everything; until now our economies have not reflected that dependency;
  • Investing in people – evidence shows that more equitable access to our natural resources benefits both people and planet; where communities have secure tenure and a say in decisions there are better outcomes for the environment as well as for the local economy;
  • Greening high impact sectors – these sectors include food, housing and transport and their embedded energy needs – accounting for 63% of the global ecological footprint;
  • Influencing financial flows – capital markets are dominated by large banks but smaller, values-based banks, which base their decisions on the needs of the people and the environment, have proved to outperform traditional mainstream banks on all indicators, including financial ones;
  • Measuring what matters – economic metrics, such as GDP and quarterly reports, tell us nothing about the resilience of an economy or business; some investors are asking for new metrics. Governments in Canada, Botswana and India are already working on this.

And just recently, the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has invited 120-odd nations to join a new International Agency for Solar Policy and Application97, aimed at helping poorer countries in the tropics develop solar power.  India is investing $30 million to set up a headquarters and aims to raise a further $400 million.  Modi has also written an article in The Economist (Gathering steam: The World in 2016, p70)98, which outlines the basic precepts of India’s economy, to include incentivising afforestation, setting ambitious targets for renewable energy, faster and more inclusive growth and eliminating poverty.

It is encouraging to know that many people across the globe are already looking to develop new economies that no longer threaten the sustainability of the planet.  The agreement signed at the COP21 talks at the PARIS Summit also takes us in the right direction, even though fossil fuels are not mentioned in the wording of this agreement. The detail of this agreement will be discussed in chapter 8.

fig69

Fig.71

From: http://www.propostalavoro.com with permission

I have come to the end of describing the interconnected factors which have worked together to bring about a situation where the future of this planet is at risk.  Many other people, apart from me, have realised this and are working in various ways to raise awareness and to lobby for change.  However, I feel that far too many people, all over the world, do not understand the urgency of the situation and have not really curtailed their activities as a result.  This is why I have written this book and tried to keep it simple.

The following chapters will look at how we may work towards global co-operation in a united effort to bring about a sustainable future. The final chapter looks at why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, there has been so much lethargy about doing something about it.


Table 5:  Quotation from the Introduction to Richard Douthwaite’s book:                    

“The Growth Illusion” Green Books, 1999

“A decade ago, few of us had any doubt about what growth was for. It was to lift people out of poverty and enable them to have a better quality of life. Political parties dressed these
expectations up in different ways: the left would talk about growth leading to higher wages, improved social welfare, better hospitals, a lower pupil-teacher ratio and so on, while
the right would stress greater profits and a wider range of choice.

But now much of the old confidence about the results of the growth process has evaporated…the only benefits many of us expect from economic growth are increased business profits and – if the rate of growth is fast enough – extra jobs……..
So why, since we know the benefits of growth have… hefty price tags attached, is it still considered so important to achieve it? One reason is that firms are constantly trying to lower their costs by introducing labour-saving technologies. Naturally these technologies cost jobs, so every year, unless the total amount of activity in the economy increases by about 3 per cent, unemployment will rise. As far as jobs are concerned therefore, national economies have to grow pretty quickly just to stand still.

The second reason our countries need growth is that between 15 and 20 per cent of their workforces are employed at any time on investment projects designed to expand their economies in the coming years. If growth fails one year, firms that invested but couldn’t increase their sales in the flat
market will find themselves with surplus capacity. This will cause them to cut any further nvestment plans they might have, throwing the people who would have built their new 
factories, offices and shopping centres out of work. And since these newly unemployed people will obviously have less to spend, further jobs will be lost in other sectors of the economy. Consumer spending will fall even more, causing more job losses. In short, a downward spiral could develop
leading to a serious depression. The possibility of this happening terrifies every government in the world to such an extent that they are prepared to do almost anything to ensure that growth carries on regardless of its social or environmental consequences……

In 1998, I conducted an Internet survey for almost 700 participants from over 50 countries. I had expected that it would take most of the seminar to reach some sort of agreement that, whatever growth might have achieved in the past, current growth was not benefiting ordinary people. Not
at all. It took a bare 24 hours, so most of the seminary was spent discussing how the economic system could be altered to remove its need to grow.”