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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Research shows that a Carbon Tax helps achieve Paris Targets without harming the economy

In Chapter 7 of my book (pages 160-162), I describe the carbon tax and how it has helped reduce carbon emissions in the countries that have introduced it.  I particularly cite the the example of Australia, which introduced a carbon tax in 2012, whilst led by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, under a coalition with the Greens. In Australia, the act was very unpopular, particularly amongst business leaders, and it was repealed two years later by Prime Minister, Tony Abbot.  In my book, I provide a figure (Figure 67 in chapter 7), showing that during the two years of a carbon tax being in operation, carbon emissions in the country fell, only to start rising again after the act was repealed.

An OECD Environmental Review, published in 2014, describes how Sweden introduced a carbon tax in 1991. Since that time, their economy has grown by 50% and their emissions of greenhouse gases have declined.  See: https://issuu.com/oecd.publishing/docs/sweden_ar_brochure_web

Now, new comprehensive research has shown that a carbon tax has the effect of reducing carbon emissions of a country and, at the same time, enabling the growth of the economy in that country. An American study on the effects of a carbon tax has been reported in detail in the Guardian by Dana Nuccitelli on 16th July 2018.  See:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2018/jul/16/comprehensive-study-carbon-taxes-wont-hamper-the-economy

The study was carried out by the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum (EMF) project and involved 11 teams who examined the economic and environmental impacts of a carbon tax.  The findings consistently showed that a carbon tax is effective at reducing carbon pollution and that it has a very modest impact on the economy, as measured by GDP.

The study looked at four different types of carbon tax policy and the following quote is included in the Guardian article:

“in every policy scenario, in every model, the U.S. economy continues to grow at or near its long-term average baseline rate, deviating from reference growth by no more than about 0.1% points. We find robust evidence that even the most ambitious carbon tax is consistent with long-term positive economic growth, near baseline rates, not even counting the growth benefits of a less-disrupted climate or lower ambient air pollution”

They found that coal power plants would be the biggest losers if the carbon tax were implemented, which may explain the resistance encountered in Australia.  In addition, there were substantial cost savings in relationship to health improvements.  Some of the pollutants released by burning coal (eg soot, mercury) have a severe impact on health.

1200px-AlfedPalmersmokestacks

The article also argues convincingly that curbing global warming, in line with the Paris agreement, also has a positive economic effect.

So, it sounds like a WIN WIN situation.

The following website gives details of those countries which have implemented a carbon tax:

https://www.carbontax.org/where-carbon-is-taxed/

 

 

 

 


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Australia to abandon clean energy target

Recent reports from the Financial Times and the Washington Post suggest that Australia is following Trump’s US Energy policy by ditching their own clean energy target in exchange for cheaper power.  Conservation groups have condemned the ruling conservative coalition for abandoning the renewable energy target for 2030 that was recommended this year by Australia’s chief scientist to comply with the Paris climate change agreement.

The plan was to generate 42 percent of the country’s power from wind and solar energy, in compliance with climate change commitments. The new ruling will end subsidies paid to wind and solar generators from 2020, in order to help reduce energy costs for consumers. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg told Parliament that coal and gas would generate 64 to 72 percent of Australia’s electricity by 2030.

This is a sad departure from former commitments by this country to reduce greenhouse gases but it is in line with other government policies to support mining developments which will damage the Great Barrier Reef.

See: https://www.fightforourreef.org.au/

and:

http://www.greenpeace.org › Home › What We Do › Climate
I find it difficult to justify the current stance of the Australian government, who appear to have no concern for the damage their policies will do to both the health of the planet and the iconic Great Barrier Reef.
In chapter 7 of my book on the Economy, I reproduce a graph (Figure 67), which shows how the carbon emissions in Australia reduced significantly during the two year period after they introduced a carbon tax in 2012. In July 2014, the carbon tax act was repealed.  The graph shows the carbon emissions  immediately rising again.  This latest ruling is likely to make the situation even worse.  It is difficult to understand why Australia politicians are failing to see the effects of their recent legislation.  The graph can be seen in the Chapter 7 blog on this website.
A huge mistake was made back in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted through the United Nations (UNFCCC).  At that time, three countries, who were in the early stages of industrialising their economies (China, India and Australia) were exempted from complying with the Kyoto Protocol.  These three countries went on to become some of the worst polluters on the planet.  It would seem that China and India are making attempts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions but Australia is far from acting in a responsible manner in this respect.
Australians per capita are among the world’s worst greenhouse gas polluters because of the country’s heavy reliance on its abundant coal reserves for power. But no new coal-fired generators are being built because of uncertainty over how Australia intends to achieve its greenhouse gas cuts.
Perhaps they can be brought in line with other global economies during COP23.
coral bleaching
Bleached coral skeletons in the Great Barrier Reef near Port Douglas photographed on Feb. 20. 2017 – image from Greenpeace
However, on October 30th 2017 news came through from the Fight for the Reef campaign that, as one of their last acts before calling the election, the Queensland Government had banned dangerous trans-shipping of coal, petroleum and other substances in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.  This means that all coal ships and major vessels will be prohibited from loading in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
And three days later, Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced she will veto the $1 billion taxpayer loan for the Adani coal project!


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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.

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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)

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table4

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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.”


 

 

 

 


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Our Beautiful World in Harmony

CHAPTER 1

Our beautiful world in harmony

One October, when I was about 6 years old, my mother took me out for a treat. My older siblings were involved in other things and this was a rare opportunity for me to have my mother’s undivided attention. We walked to a local park, Scotch Common, which had a variety of trees, beginning to show their autumn colours: coppers, browns, golds, ochres and reds. We identified some of the trees as horse chestnut, oak and sycamore and then searched beneath them to collect their seeds: shiny brown conkers with a varnish-like sheen, green and brown acorns, some separated from their craggy cups, and the winged sycamore paired seeds, which would spiral slowly down to the ground if you threw them into the air.  Mum suggested I take a selection to school to put on the nature table.

I don’t know why this incident sticks in my mind but I believe that it may have been the beginning of a growing love of nature in me, which is still a significant part of my identity.  Though I am now 73 years old, each autumn I still collect conkers and acorns and sycamore seeds for my own nature table at home. I don’t know how much longer I will be able to do this, as the seasons are changing so much. Already the conker crop last year seemed smaller and autumn was extended with a mild spell, with golden leaves on the trees until well into November, and winter still not started by Christmas. Are we in danger of losing some of these great trees and their fruit and their annual cycles related to the seasons?  Why is it that we have summer flowers still in blossom in December and reports that in some parts of the UK, the spring flowers (daffodils etc) are already in blossom in December?

Yes, I love nature but my love of animals far surpasses that of the plant kingdom.  We share this world with some wonderful creatures: the large wild carnivores and herbivores of Africa and Asia; the strange marsupials of Australasia; the prairie animals; the domesticated pets who share our homes with us; the birds who visit our gardens and who migrate across great oceans every year; the creatures and fish of the seas; the inhabitants of the polar ice caps and the smaller secretive wild mammals who live in burrows.

I believe that I am not the only person in this world who loves nature in this way and who respects and enjoys the splendour of our world. We live on a magnificent planet and share it with some spectacular creatures.

I am writing this book because I believe that we are in danger of losing it all. And the magnitude of this loss is greater, and the need for action more urgent, than many believe.

How everything fits together in harmony

It has been known for more than 50 years, and certainly since I was at school during the 50s and 60s, that the process of photosynthesis in plants is closely linked to the process of respiration in animals. Indeed, one could almost describe the relationship between plants and animals as symbiotic, one being dependent upon the other to maintain its life.  The plant life on the planet absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and water from the soil and, through chemical reactions, changes them into glucose and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the air and breathed in by the animal life (including ourselves). In animals, oxygen is inhaled and carbon dioxide is released through the process of respiration.  Thus, plants provide oxygen for animals to breathe and animals exhale carbon dioxide, which is used by plants in the process of photosynthesis.

This photosynthetic cycle has been analysed and shown to be a series of chemical reactions, all initially triggered by light energy from the sun.  Chloroplasts in plants (in the green chlorophyll) trap the sunlight, which provides the energy for the photosynthetic cycle (Fig.1).

Fig 1. The relationship between photosynthesis in plants and respiration in animals

the process of photosynthesis

From: http://www.motherearthnews.com/nature-and-environment/nature/how-photosynthesis-works-zw0z1406zwea.aspx                                          with permission

This process happens throughout nature, from the very smallest algae and plankton to the giant trees in our forests and from the smallest amoebae and zooplankton in water to the largest of our land and sea mammals (elephants and whales) – an interchange of gases and chemical products between plants and animals which is important to sustain life.

But the photosynthetic and respiratory cycles do not stand alone.  They are inter-linked with other kinds of cycles, the chemical processes of which have been carefully studied by scientists.  For example, plants store another product of photosynthesis (glucose or starch) and this is consumed by herbivorous and omnivorous animals and provides them with the energy they need for growth and development. Thus, there is a transfer of energy from the sun to plants and then on to animals, this energy is needed to sustain life.  And none of this could begin without the presence of the sun itself – at exactly the right strength.

Fig 2 THE CARBON CYCLE

Illustration by LizzardBrandInc, with permission from UCAR

There are other cycles in nature too: the nitrogen cycle, the Krebs cycle (to process and release energy) and the carbon cycle (Fig 2), which is closely linked to the respiratory cycle of animals.  The carbon cycle involves the decomposition of dead and decaying matter into fossil fuels (see later for the significance of this).

Following the discovery of interactive cycles in nature, it was not long before the whole concept of food chains was proposed, with the lowest forms of life being consumed by the next species up the food chain, from herbivores (plant eaters) to omnivores (plant and meat eaters), with the carnivores (big cats, birds of prey etc) at the top of the food chain.  Thus, the sun’s energy is transferred first through plants to animals and then up through the food chain, simplified diagrams of which are in Figure 3.

Fig 3.  Simple Food chains

From: www.k8schoollessons.com/food-chains-and-food-webs/ (with permission)

 The diagrams in Fig.3 show simplified food chains but, in fact, things are rarely as simple as this and the concept of a “food web” is much closer to reality. Figure 4 shows a woodland food web, which can be seen to be much more complex than a simple chain, with various species being inter-dependent.

Image result for woodland food web

Figure 4:  A Woodland Food Web from www.docbrown.info, (with permission)

 A recent programme on BBC TV, “Secrets of our Living Planet”, also available on DVD9, gave examples of some fascinating food webs throughout the world, from tropical rain forests, to savannahs and in the oceans, and demonstrated that if one member of the web disappeared, then others wouldn’t survive.  The most compelling example of this was the brazil nut tree, which relied on a small rodent, the agouti (Fig. 5), to crack and disperse its seeds, as well as an orchid, which grew on its trunk and attracted a particular species of bee, to pollinate both tree and orchid, the male bee pollinating one and the female bee pollinating the other, with the bees reliant on the nectar in the flowers for their survival.

Fig 5 – the Brazilian agouti (from www.hidephotography.com with permission)

So we can see from this that, not only is there an interaction and inter-dependency between plants and animals, but that inter-dependency continues throughout the animal kingdom, in a complex web.  Thus, if one species disappears, or becomes extinct, this may also affect other species, which are dependent on it as a food source or pollinator. This whole interaction between members of the plant and animal species is called an ecosystem.

I feel that the interaction of all the cycles and ecosystems is close to being miraculous.  Our world has been regulated in an astounding way.  It is as if everything on this planet has been put in place in ecosystems, or has evolved, to work harmoniously, so that all life on this planet remains in balance, in a wonderful connectedness and interdependency that maintains life.

I love to wander through parts of our green land, with rolling hills and tranquil forests, just taking in the beauty of it. I also love to visit beaches to hear the sea and breathe in the clean, salty ocean air. It is not surprising therefore that I have been  excited by the hypothesis proposed by the scientist, James Lovelock, in 197910, which states that the earth itself is a self-regulating body;  that the earth is like one big organism with the ability to regulate critical systems to meet its own needs and to sustain life. It is called the Gaia Hypothesis.

Image result for gaia hypothesis

Fig.6 Gaia Hypothesis (from http://www.google.com)

The regulatory mechanisms which have been keeping all life in balance and harmony for thousands of years are now being undermined and put out of harmony by the hand of man.   Let’s have a look at what we have been doing to place all this at risk and what we need to do to make things right again.

Our beautiful world no longer in harmony

Fossil fuels, produced as part of the carbon cycle, have been used by humans for centuries, but especially since the industrial revolution, to produce other forms of energy for humans to heat their homes, run their vehicles, power up vast factories and to develop more and more complex gadgets and life-enhancing commodities.  The downside of this practice is, of course, that carbon dioxide and other toxic gases are released into the atmosphere as a by-product of their use, resulting in global warming.

Global warming is the rise in average global surface temperature caused primarily by the build-up of human-produced greenhouses gases, mostly carbon dioxide and methane, which trap heat in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

At the beginning of the industrial revolution it was not realised that the plant life on earth could not cope with absorbing all the extra carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere from manufacturing and the problem was made worse by the felling of many of the great trees in the mighty rainforests of the earth, in order to clear land for agriculture and to sell the wood.  Figure 7 shows the dramatic increase in fossil fuel emissions since 1870. This is comprised mainly of carbon dioxide.

 Fig.7  Fossil fuel emissions since 1751

Projection of global carbon emissions from fossil fuel use, 1751 to 2006 (CDIAC data)

From: http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/ecolonomics/00/ecolonomics-20091013.shtml

GteC refers to Giga-tonnes of carbon

 Human activity has been bringing all the ecosystems on the planet into an imbalance and a resulting effect of this has been the loss of numerous species, as well as changes to the climate and global temperatures.

Another way in which plant life and animal life (insects and birds) have interactive cycles is the way in which bees depend on flowers for nectar and, in visiting plants to feed on nectar, they inadvertently brush against the pollen in the flower stamens.  They then carry this pollen on their bodies to other flowers and become the means by which pollination occurs in plants (part of the reproductive cycle of plants).  Recently, vast decreases in the numbers of bees have been noticed and this is thought to be caused by the use of pesticides on plants.  If the bees were to disappear altogether, pollination might not occur and this could reduce some of the food sources available to us.  Vegetables and fruit known to be pollinated by bees are okra, kiwifruit, onion, celery, cashew nuts, strawberries, papaya, custard apples, turnips, beet, brazil nuts, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, water melon, coconut, tangerine, cucumber, quince, fig, apple, walnuts, mangos, avocados, peach, nectarine, pear, raspberry, blackberry, elderberry, cocoa, passion fruit and many others.

Thus, the loss of bees might result in the loss of most of the vegetables and fruits that the human race, and other species, rely upon for their food.

Fig 8:  Bees in the process of pollinating flowers

Image result for diagram of cycle of bees pollinating flowers

Originally from: http://www.kidsgardening.org/node/99559 but no longer at this link, so try: https://www.shutterstock.com/search/pollination for alternatives.

See also: https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=bees+pollinating+flowers&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=rimg:CTpuYoMW5ZSSIjgW8_1txAk4IgYpc3e5d-4HgQpGItS4O9xelkTjXySTGVqkykrdJPwSAU6iebYFVLH47ms-8vG_1ppyoSCRbz-3ECTgiBEZYLUJ0fGq3lKhIJilzd7l37geARifWWnCmf-egqEglCkYi1Lg73FxGuZrGBofnZ2ioSCaWRONfJJMZWEbc4FklQt4jCKhIJqTKSt0k_1BIAR_1zn7c-hvXs8qEglTqJ5tgVUsfhFwlTLIh3C8eSoSCTuaz7y8b-mnERK4BV0iiMEp&tbo=u&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiK4Ln6zd3cAhXCC8AKHZn9DQwQ9C96BAgBEBs&biw=1262&bih=610&dpr=1#imgrc=kfKkyM_dHzHk1M:

or:

http://ib.bioninja.com.au/higher-level/topic-9-plant-biology/untitled-3/plant-reproduction.html

There have been vast changes in the way that farmers have carried out their agricultural activities in recent years; they have copied some processes from the manufacturing industry to become more “productive”, using intensive farming methods, removing hedgerows and maximising the use of their fields.  Over this same period, certain species of birds have been disappearing because the insects in hedgerows that they feed on are no longer there, or have been killed off with pesticides.

Wikipedia lists 190 species of birds which have become extinct since 1500 and a further 321 are currently endangered, including the cuckoo and several of our garden species.

A recent report from American scientists, Ceballos and colleagues11, suggests that human activity has already triggered the beginnings of another mass extinction, thereby threatening our own future. According to this group, there have been five mass extinctions in the earth’s past (the extinction of dinosaurs being the most well-known) and that this latest threat to the planet would be its sixth mass extinction. They state that, in the last century, vertebrates (animals with backbones) have been disappearing at a rate 114 times greater than would normally be expected, without the destructive activity of humans.  They pointed out that, since 1900, over 400 more vertebrates than expected had vanished; this included 69 mammals, 80 birds, 24 reptiles, 146 amphibians and 158 fish species.  They warn that species loss will have a significant effect on human populations in as little as three generations.  The researchers concluded that this destruction of species is accelerating and initiating a mass extinction episode unparalleled for 65 million years.

This report has triggered significant discussion within the scientific community, and some have ventured to include humans (also vertebrates) as part of this extinction.  They are confident that bees will definitely be extinct by then and perhaps many of the large carnivores, such as lions. Whether humans also become extinct depends, one supposes, on whether those creatures and plants which we rely on for food, have disappeared in this mass extinction.  It is estimated that 2,000 sheep and 100 cattle were drowned in the recent floods engulfing the north of England, so the loss of our food sources due to climate change is a possibility.  So, with bees gone and the vegetables that they pollinate and the loss of some of our meat sources, things look bleak for humans in the future too. A number of organisations are predicting crop failures due to climate change by 2030, particularly in the poorer countries in Asia and Africa.

There are also concerns about the effects of climate change on human health12. This 43-page significant publication by Antony Costello and others gives evidence of grave concern to human health.

Anthony Costello, director of the UCL Institute for Global Health said: “Our analysis clearly shows that by tackling climate change, we can also benefit health — and tackling climate change in fact represents one of the greatest opportunities to benefit human health for generations to come”. And Hugh Montgomery who co-chaired the Commission said, “Climate change is a medical emergency. It thus demands an emergency response, using the technologies available right now”.

Also, in its 2010 report “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change”13 the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences gives a list of the health consequences of increased greenhouse gases and climate change. The list includes about twelve major health risks.  The human population would therefore seem to be as much at risk as the creatures with whom we share this planet.

And yet, humans don’t seem to be able to stop tinkering with the natural order of things in the ecosystems of the world.  One vivid example comes from Australia where, in 1935, a toad from South America was introduced to Queensland, with the aim of using it to consume cane beetles, which were damaging sugar cane crops.  This toad did not eat the beetle and instead multiplied in huge numbers, because it had no natural predators, so that the cane toad is now a national pest.  It is also poisonous to other species and is now being blamed for a massive reduction in the number of dwarf crocodiles in Australia.

Fig. 9: Cane Toad

Image result for cane toad

To go back to farming practices:  Fields are no longer left to lie fallow and so do not have a chance to replenish the nutrients found in soil that are essential to plant life, so that they become less productive.  However, some farmers are now introducing permaculture, with good results and organic farming is also on the increase.

During the 1990’s the condition of “mad cow disease” (BSE – bovine spongiform encephalopathy) appeared in the UK and it was eventually discovered that foodstuffs fed to cattle at that time had been processed from animal sources and so cows, who are herbivores, were being fed foodstuffs which turned them into not only carnivores but also cannibals.  This violation of the natural food chains had far reaching consequencies, as it would appear that it could be passed on to humans who consumed meat from cattle with BSE, the human form of the disease being named CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease).  Another example of human activity which had devastating effects on the life of the planet.

In a recent “Springwatch” programme on BBC TV, we were made aware of another dangerous practice:  the production of exfoliation products for washing our faces; these soap-based products contain tiny particles of plastic (which do the exfoliation); these are washed down sinks and eventually get down via rivers into the sea.  They are absorbed by microplankton, which are subsequently eaten by fish – and thus find their way into the food chain, if they do not kill the fish off first.

So here we have several kinds of human activity that are interfering with the natural cycles and transfer of chemicals and energy through the plant and animal kingdoms, as well as through the food chains:

  • the whole industrialisation process, which releases excessive carbon dioxide and other toxic pollutants into the air;
  • the use of pesticides to enhance agricultural production, which has killed off bees and other insects and also birds;
  • intensive farming methods which have eliminated hedgerows and thus the bird species which rely on them for nests and food;
  • the feeding of processed animal products to herbivores;
  • the expansion in the use of exfoliants, which get into rivers and seas and work their way up through the food chain;
  • the introduction of non-native species into other countries;
  • deforestation and land clearance.

And these have not been the only human activities to do this. Humans also exploit the animal kingdom, sometimes in very cruel ways, in order to make money for themselves and this has also put some species at risk of extinction.  This exploitation includes killing elephants for ivory, rhinos for their horns, sharks for their fins, bears for their bile, pangolins and forest mammals for their meat and capturing baby monkeys and other primates, some from rare species, to sell in markets. Some species, such as the tiger, are currently threatened because of habitat loss or fragmentation. Forests where the tiger lives are cleared for agricultural activity, such as growing palm oil. Many other species are also in danger because of habitat loss (orang utan, elephant, rhino, polar bear etc).  As I write, we hear about a huge fire in the country of Indonesia, originally started to clear forest for the planting of palm oil crops, but now burning out of control, leaving a smoky haze over a wide area.  Indonesia is the only habitat for the endangered orang utan, as well as the rare Bornean white-bearded gibbon, sun bears and pangolins.

Global warming has led to the melting of the ice caps and a subsequent rise of sea levels, so that some island nations are at risk of disappearing into the sea. Scientists have predicted that global average surface temperatures are likely to rise by 3-4˚ within the lifespan of today’s teenagers, though there are efforts to keep it down to below 1.5˚.   The BBC recently reported that, as 2015 has been a particularly hot year, the average global temperature is likely to increase above 1˚ for the first time14. In a later chapter I will discuss the efforts being made at UN level to keep the temperature rise below 1.5˚.

 Fig. 10 – increases in global average temperature since 1860

Temperatures

From: www.bbc.co.uk (GCSE Bitesize)

Recent reports, described in the Guardian, have demonstrated that global temperatures in 2016 have been the hottest since records began15  so that 2016 is likely to be the hottest on record, with 2015 was the hottest year on record before that and 2014 the hottest year before that.

Also affected has been the climate, with more frequent catastrophic events, such as tornados and cyclones, mud slides, flooding, droughts, desertification etc. With the melting of the polar ice caps, the ecological balance of species living in these areas has also been disturbed, the most well-known being the polar bear, which can no longer rely on its main food resource, the seal.

 FIG 11: A starving and emaciated female polar bear on a small block of ice

Image result for emaciated polar bear

Photograph by Kerstin Langenberger with permission

 Already, in several parts of the world there has been a rise in sea level, affecting especially coastal areas and island nations (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Philippines, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands). Over the past century, the world’s oceans have risen 4-8 inches. It is reported that several rocket launch areas and space stations in the US will have to be moved inland, because of the risk of flooding.  Scientific models have suggested that sea levels will rise by 20 centimetres by 2050 (that’s another 8 inches), or triple that if the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt. The acidity of the sea has also increased by 30%, due to it absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to form carbonic acid and this puts some marine creatures and coral at risk.  Coral reefs are particularly in danger, especially the iconic Great Barrier Reef, just off Australia. Australia’s recent surge in industrialisation projects (mega-mines, dredging and railway projects) has put the reef in danger with rapid destruction of the coral. We are told that 50% of coral has been lost since the 1980s, due to the warming of the sea.

Fig. 12: Bleaching of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef

Image result for bleaching of coral reefs in australia

From: https://fightforthereef.org.au

 Picture

Fig. 13 – the increases in sea level over the last century.                                                  Source: US EPA Climate Change website

Most worrying are the vast permafrost regions of the world (Siberia, Canada, Alaska), where the earth remains below freezing point, even during the summer.  If the temperature of these areas increases, then large quantities of methane will be released into the atmosphere, adding to the problems of global warming that we already have.

At this time, there are campaigning groups trying to stop companies drilling for oil in the Arctic ocean, where the sea ice is already melting at a rapid rate. Recent studies in Greenland have shown that there is evidence that the glaciers are shrinking and the ice is thinning.  A recent report from the Californian Institute of Technology states that one of the biggest glaciers in Greenland, Zachariae Isstrom, which holds enough ice to raise the sea level by 18 inches, has broken loose from a stable position and is melting at both ends, with ice crumbling into the North Atlantic Ocean.  Greenland is the second largest ice body in the world and already contributes to about 40% of the current sea level rise.  Since 1992, 65 million tons of Antarctic ice has melted.

Fig. 14: The Shrinking of Arctic sea ice between 1979 and 2016

copyright: Andy Lee Haviland (with permission)

Some have made calculations about what would happen to the world if all the ice caps were to melt and it is quite clear that, not only island nations, but also whole countries and some major cities would be swallowed up by the sea.  The map below shows what would happen to Europe in this circumstance.  Such a circumstance would remove much of the UK, especially the eastern areas and around the wash and the Thames, the whole of the Netherlands, Belgium, almost all of Denmark, part of northern Germany and Russia, much of Turkey and the Baltic regions. Venice would disappear into the Adriatic Sea and the Caspian and Black Seas would become much larger.  Worldwide, we would lose Bangladesh, Singapore, some of the Philippine Islands, much of Sumatra and Papua New Guinea, the whole of Florida, several Caribbean islands, Tuvalu and much of China.  Huge inland seas would develop in Australia, around the Amazon and Paraguay River basins and delta areas would also be inundated (Mekong, Nile, Ganges), leading to the submergence of Cairo and Alexandria.  Due to differences in ocean currents, the sea level increase would be higher in some areas than others (eg the eastern seaboard of the USA).  Africa’s coastline would not be as affected as that of some other continents but, due to temperature rises, some parts would become so hot that they would be uninhabitable.

In 2014, the University of Notre Dame produced a definitive ranking system that showed how countries around the world would fare if global warming increased at its current rate.

The rankings took into account the country’s location, its population density and how financially equipped it was to deal with the rising sea level and increase in temperature.

Fig 15 and 15a: Pictures showing new coastline of Europe if all the ice caps were to melt – the outer line shows coastlines as they are at present     Source: National Geographic Creative (with permission)

Related image

All of the changes described above have not gone unnoticed and there have been numerous campaigns and demonstrations to prevent some of the human activities which are endangering our planet, some more successful than others. For example, in the Netherlands, one of the countries most at risk of rising sea levels, the Hague District Court recently ordered the Dutch government to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25% by 2020.  This arose following a complaint by an activist group.  The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, with much of its land lying below sea level.  The island nations are also at risk of being swallowed up by the sea but this is as a result of greenhouse gas emissions of other countries, rather than their own. And the Philippines were recently devastated by Cyclone Yolande.  All of this is summarised in a short video clip on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/worldeconomicforum/videos/10154178419921479/).

The United Nations has been taking action, ever since the Rio Summit in 1992 (to be described in a later chapter) but it is not enough, as carbon emissions continue to rise.  As I started to write this book, the latest summit (CPO21 in Paris) had not yet taken place but, by the time it was finished, an agreement had been reached, which will be discussed in Chapter 8.

Some of the toxic chemicals released from human manufacturing activity, such as nitrous oxide and bromine and chlorine compounds (CFCs), have the effect of depleting the ozone layer, which exists in the earth’s atmosphere.  The purpose of the ozone layer is to absorb ultra-violet rays from the sun. Ozone levels in the stratosphere have reduced by 4% since 1970 and there is an ozone hole over the Antarctic circle – again more evidence that human activity is affecting the stability of the planet.

So many factors have been interacting to create the global situation in which we are at the moment and this book attempts to show how they interrelate. Each chapter in this book will look at a different factor, which has put the planet and its species at risk and will show, I hope, that each of these has an inter-connectedness.  We therefore need to tackle every factor, not just one in isolation.  Scientists have said that we have only three generations to do this before things have gone too far.  If the exponential graphs shown in Figures 7, 11 and 15 continue at this rate, then we probably have even less time than three generations to reverse the changes.

A short piece of film has recently been circulated on the internet, which summarizes all of these risk factors, and is especially targeted at those who, like me, love and cherish the natural world16.

Scientists have predicted that, in three generations time, there will be a mass extinction of many of the animal species inhabiting this planet.  It is not clear whether this extinction will include humans but many of the animal, insect and bird species that we have grown to love will have gone by then.  I think the risk is there for human populations as well, so I have used this “3 generations” factor as the title of this book and in most of the assessments and discussions which follow. Let’s hope that this never happens but using 3 generations as a rule of thumb will hopefully concentrate the minds of those who are in positions in which they can make the changes needed to ensure that this never becomes a reality.